Nothing confounds me more as a teacher of public speaking than my students' reluctance to practice. As I have said more times than I can count, "Michael Jordan practiced basketball nearly every day of his career, even though he was already the best player in the world". As someone who is admittedly far from the best speaker in the world, what would make you think you can succeed without practicing?
I know, I know. It feels silly speaking to yourself out loud in an empty room (presumably you are not practicing on the public transportation system!). And to this I can only say it feels far worse to be alone in the front of the room struggling to speak clearly and effectively.
In fact, if you are speaking extemporaneously--and you should be--the first run-through is usually a train wreck. And right then you should applaud yourself for having had the good sense to practice. Better a train wreck in the privacy of your own home or office than in front of that audience, right? At this point you should just relax and run through it again. It will get better. And again, it will get better, again.
I always suggest five practice runs. However, if you have the time and feel the need to practice more, do it until you feel supremely confident in your ability to deliver the message.
I would also spend a little extra time on the introduction of your speech. Of course it is your audience's first impression and you want to make a great one, but there is another reason you should be ultra-confident with that first 10-20% of your speech. The research shows that speakers anxiety levels are the highest during that first minute or so of your speech. After that the heart rate, breathing, and adrenalin levels all begin to normalize. So if you can weather that initial physiological storm, it's smooth sailing thereafter.
A couple of tips about practicing:
1. Make sure you practice aloud. While "running it through your head" surely won't hurt you, it is no substitute for running it through your mouth. You do not use the same part of your brain to think thoughts as you do to make your mouth move and say words. Saying the words of your speech out loud strengthens the neural connections you will need to actually give the speech.
2. Break the speech up into chunks to practice, especially if it is a long talk. Five chunks is ideal (one for your intro, one for each of your three main points, and one for your conclusion). Ultimately you want to put them all together and practice from beginning to end, but early on you can just do it in parts.
3. Practice with your PowerPoint if you are using visual aids. Get in the flow of when the slide will change--put notes to yourself on your speaking outline to change slides!
Whatever you do, resist the temptation to "wing it". Trust me, it shows. And the message you are sending is. "I am not as prepared as I could and should be" and that can be interpreted in many ways by audience members, some of them very negatively.
If you practice sufficiently you should do a fine job with your speech. You may not be Michael Jordan just yet, but you will be giving that audience the very best you are capable of, and that's all any reasonable person would ever ask of you.
Until next time, be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading!
Anyone interested in learning more about Dan Leyes consulting work should visit Semiosphere Consulting.