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Perfect Practice: Six Steps to Nail Your Speech

Perfect Practice: Six Steps to Nail Your Speech

The best public speakers – the ones who grab our attention and propel our imagination –

make public speaking look effortless. We may believe they are naturally gifted, or that they are trained actors with years of theater workshops and stage experience. The more likely truth is, they’ve relentlessly practiced.

You don’t need to go far to hear the advice to practice, practice, practice. But, there’s not much information about how to do it, what process to use, how long it should take, and how to know when you’re ready to stop practicing and start presenting.

For students of public speaking and those who are polished pros, there are six steps to perfect, effective practice.

1 – Read. Speak. Note.

With the full-sentence draft of your speech in-hand, stand up and read your speech out loud. Word for word. Use a stopwatch to time it.

Are you within the established time limits? Are there words you stumbled over or sentences that just didn’t sound right? Great – you’re on the right practice track. The purpose of reading aloud is to identify those rough spots.Read it out loud again. This time, use a pen or highlighter to mark words or sections that need to be adjusted. Then adjust them. Add notes to yourself like “Slow down,” or “Pause for effect,” and “Look up here.”

And repeat. Public reading isn’t public speaking, but reading out loud to fine-tune your message, phrasing, and timing is a critical step in your practice.

2 – Commas, and Periods.

Your full sentence draft should be punctuated. It doesn’t need to pass muster with your 9th grade English teacher, but it should have commas, periods, semicolons and other punctuation marks in it. Why is this important?

Punctuation, especially commas and periods, are important signals for your practice.

A comma tells you to pause, slow down, and prepare the audience for something.

A period tells you to stop, breathe, and ready yourself for a transition.

As you’re practicing your speech out loud, pay special attention to these punctuation signals. They are cues you should use to add expression, modulate your pace, and keep the audience with you for every word.

3 – Imitate a Pro

We all have favorite speakers, newscasters, and TED talks. As you’re practicing your speech, choose one of these individuals who you admire and study them. Watch their timing, gestures, vocal intonations. Then, aim to imitate their best practices.

These professionals are highly-trained in the craft of public speaking and have a lot to offer you during your practice sessions. Watch, learn and do what they do.

4 – Repeat.

This is the part of practice that most people understand: you have to keep practicing your speech until you’ve got it right.

Each repeat should add something new, some learning or notation you’ve added to your draft that improves it.

Was your first reading too long? Did you change the order of your key points? What words or punctuation did you add? Pay attention to the edit marks and notes you’ve made to yourself on your draft.

And keep at it until you are comfortable and confident enough with your draft that you don’t need to read it verbatim. This is your clue that you can reduce your full-sentence draft to a skeletal outline – notes – that will trigger for you the message and delivery you’ve been practicing.

5 – Video.

With your very brief skeletal outline in hand, you are ready to video yourself. Grab your smartphone, stand, and present your speech to the phone. Then play it back.

The camera doesn’t lie. If you are like most people, you’ll quickly notice where you do well and where you can improve. Is it eye contact? Speed? Posture

The video is your coach and your friend, one you can turn to several times during your practice period.

And like your full draft reading, repeat the video practice until you’re confident.

6 – Show Time.

Your practice is nearly complete. There’s just one more important step: present your speech to a friendly audience. This is your dress rehearsal.

Choose a friend, spouse or colleague who will listen to your rehearsal and offer encouragement, attentive support. This can be an intimidating or embarrassing step, but if you can do it here you can present to your actual audience.

Is speaking to a mirror a good substitute? It can help, and you may want to add to your practice, but there’s nothing like the real thing.

With these six practice steps complete, you are ready to perform your speech. You’ve read it out loud and noted areas too smooth-out. You’ve used commas and periods as delivery signals. You’ve studied the presentation habits of those you admire. You’ve learned from your video and your dress rehearsal.

It’s time to take the stage….which is the topic of the next blog post in this series.

Dotti Gallagher