You Are The Performance: Preparing For Public Speaking

66From that first oral book report in junior high, to those public speaking courses in college, right through to your professional PowerPoint presentations, the obvious factor that has determined the quality of your performance is practice, practice, practice! But haven’t you noticed that simply reciting a speech in your head or in a mirror doesn’t always amount to sufficient practice? By employing a variety of techniques, and exploiting more of your senses, your practice can become maximized, increasing your chances of hitting it out of the park. By continuing these practice techniques a bit each day for a week before the big event, you can organically grow into your performance, and thereby “become” the speech. Here are a few of the practice techniques that have served me well, resulting in effective, engaging and confidently-delivered public addresses:

Become One With The Script

Utilize your in-between time by practicing the speech in your head….while on the train, waiting for appointments, waiting on line for coffee. This is when you can gain a general sense of the speech’s flow, and begin to decide which points are the most important. Practice emphasizing the pauses and declaring intonation, and define the sections where you’ll want to slow down the pace.

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If your speech is long, break it down to 10 or 15 minute segments and play around with the delivery in your real speaking voice. Practice in the shower, while cooking a meal, or even while taking a walk….these days, people will sooner assume you’re on a Bluetooth device than talking to yourself. This kind of practice will help you syncopate your brain with your lips, and solidify the memorization process.

Roll Tape!

During a vocal practice session, hit “record” on your smartphone or conventional cassette recorder. When you play it back, listen as if you are in the audience. This exercise will reveal the trouble spots in your talk and help you identify potential tongue-twisters. Difficult or awkward-sounding word combinations will surface, as will the passages where your voice sounds soothing vs grating. Hearing the playback is also useful for exposing the sections in your presentation where you’ll need a perk of vocal energy, where you’ll need to trim a little fat off the content, and even where you’ll need to tame your regional accent.

41Lights, Camera, Troubleshoot!

Are you like I was, uncomfortable and embarrassed watching yourself on video? This is surprisingly easy to get used to, and will prove incredibly effective in fine-tuning your presentation skills. I like to have a little fun with the video shoot process, pre-creating the big day right in my living room with a smartphone or ipod. Try it for yourself: Set up a faux audience with photographs or stuffed animals or anything you might have on hand, and begin your dress rehearsal. Stand before your silent spectators and pretend they are eager to hear your talk. This powerful exercise will render the inconsistencies between the words you choose and the body language you use. You can tweak your hand motions, perfect your facial expressions, and polish up your entire delivery. Try it in different outfits and decide which suits you and your message appropriately. Then, get a good night’s sleep knowing you’re going to rock!

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One final note: When you dress for your public speech, keep in mind the various designs of wireless lavalier microphones, if that’s what you’re going to use. In other words, this is NOT an opportunity to wear a tight outfit or a backless dress that will render it awkward or impossible to attach clips, mounts, cords and receivers. I received much praise from the technician at Bloomberg Surveillance before my interview last May when I arrived dressed in mic-friendly attire….something that so many guests fail to do. Now get out there, give them your best, and share your results with me.