How to practice your speech…

(December 2019)

In the article below, Denise Graveline, a Communications Consultant shares her thoughts on how to practice a speech.

As a speaker coach and presentation trainer, I’ve heard every dodge in the book about whether you practiced your talk, speech or presentation.

There are advantages and disadvantages for speakers who practice.  Most speakers just flip through their slides or notes, read silently to themselves, decide to rely on the text or slides, and don’t bother practicing out loud. Or people will “practice” while sitting at their desks, even when they’re going to be standing up and moving around during the presentation.

It’s almost worse if you’ve given the presentation before. “I’ve got this,” you say. “I’ll just go out there and kill it.” There’s a special hell waiting for experienced speakers who get on stage and find out that a little practice would have smoothed the rough edges of their talks.

Part of the problem is that many people don’t know how to practice a speech, or are afraid of what they’ll find if they do. But as I say in my training workshops, wouldn’t you rather mess up in practice than in front of your audience?

Here are eight effective ways to practice your presentation:

  1. Stand up and move around

You’ll look, sound and feel more energized if you stand while you practice. That’s why I encourage speakers to stand, even if they’re speaking as part of a panel, or on the telephone for a conference call or media interview.

Sitting drains energy, crowds your diaphragm and makes your voice less lively. Plus, practicing the physical movements for your talk helps you develop a kinetic memory of the movements you’ll make, which will help you pull off a smooth presentation.

  1. Speak out loud

There’s no other way to find out whether you stumble over a particular phrase or can’t pronounce something easily, in which case you can do a rewrite or workaround. You’ll also get a sense for how speaking makes you feel—whether you tense up, speak too fast or soft, or have some other issue.

  1. Practice without the text

If your goal is to speak without a text, start weaning yourself from your notes during practice sessions. Come up with an outline made up of just keywords, and choose keywords that are vivid and specific.

Put those keywords in a shortlist on a whiteboard or flipchart on the other side of the room where you can glance at them as cues. Then practice out loud without the cue cards.

  1. Practice in the actual setting

Many of us practice in conference rooms, offices, and hotel rooms. But if those aren’t like the space in which you’ll be speaking, find something closer to the actual setting for at least one practice.

Will you be using a lectern? Find a lectern to practice with. Will you be in an auditorium? Practice in one.

Even if you can’t practice there, make sure you scope out the actual space ahead of time—find photos on the Web or visit in person an hour before—so you know what to expect.

  1. Record yourself on video.

Grab a friend or colleague and ask her to record your practice. You can use your telephone’s camera. Upload and review the video, and use a checklist of things to look out for, from gestures and vocal errors to movement and tone. Note two or three things you want to improve and practice again on the video to see your progress.

  1. Listen to an audio recording

If you want to memorize a text, it’s helpful to record yourself reading the text in a lively way. Mark up the text to give yourself cues about pronunciation, emphasis, pauses and up or downturns in your tone.

Load the audio into your telephone, iPod or a CD, and listen to it over and over. One of my clients does this while running on a treadmill. Another client listens in the car on her commute, and yet another listens while she walks on the beach. It’s a great way to practice that will let you focus on the sound of your voice and vocal variety and help familiarize yourself with the words you want to say.

  1. Grab a test audience

Some speakers chose listeners who could offer perspectives on the topic, or who resembled the actual audience so the speakers could gauge responses.

Many speakers, knowing their colleagues wouldn’t be able to see the talk in person, did friends and family preview of the talk-the closest thing to a live run-through-just before departing for the actual talk. It’s a great way to give your colleagues an insider preview while getting some practice.

  1. Work with a Communications Coach

When I do one-on-one coaching with a speaker, much of what we do involves practice, as well as recording and feedback.

I usually do at least one in-person coaching session so I can better see movement, expression and other delivery issues. Then we follow up on Skype, telephone or email, and send practice videos back and forth for review and critique. The speaker also works in between our sessions and focuses on a list of action items we put together ahead of time.

We also do pre-rehearsals in the actual speaking venue.

The goal is to structure the practices so the list of issues gets smaller and smaller as we get closer to the day of the speech. This lets us focus on nuances and grace notes to really make the talk-sing. For many speakers, working with a coach is a great way to stay focused in practice while getting constructive and private feedback.

Writing and delivering an unforgettable Wedding Speech (for all the right reasons)…

Whether you are a Bride, Groom, Bestman, Father of the Bride, Father of the Groom, the time has / will come where you are faced with writing and delivering a wedding speech that will probably be the most important speech you will deliver in your lifetime before family, relations and friends. You may have done it before, you may not have done it before or this may be your first and only time or you may have more to do in the future. Whatever your situation, treat this wedding speech has the first and last one as people are looking forward to what you are going to say.

To make your speech memorable for all the right reasons, time, persistence and dedication to the cause are three prime ingredients in the writing of the speech.

Time

Start thinking about and writing your speech weeks, even months before the actual wedding. Writing this speech, indeed any speech takes time.

Persistence

Set time aside to write some of it every day and keep at it until you have the first draft completed. Don’t lay up on it until you have achieved this.

Dedication

Enjoy writing it. You are writing about someone or people you love in your life and who are very important you. Give them justice in your speech.

To make your speech unforgettable for all the right reasons; pace, pausing and voice projection are the three prime ingredients in the delivery of your speech.

Pace

You must deliver your speech at the right pace, saying every letter in every word, so as not to speak fast (the main challenge in public speaking).

Pausing

Pause after every comma, full-stop and at the end of every paragraph to allow the audience react to what you have said and allow you to take a breadth.

Voice projection

You need to speak differently to how you would normally speak to people on a one to one. Use inflection techniques by hitting words hard, hitting words soft.

How will I remember my wedding speech…?

Whether you have to deliver a Father of the Bride Speech, Father of the Groom Speech, Groomsman Speech, Bridesmaid Speech, Bride Speech, Groom Speech and / or a Bestman Speech; you have a lot to say, with the speech content being different for all of the above speakers, but with one common theme i.e. the Bride & Groom.

For many speakers, the main concern is, ‘How will I remember my wedding speech?’, ‘How will I stay on track?’ and How will I make sure that I don’t forget anybody or anything?’. Speaking off the cuff is fine if you are able to do this and ‘wing it on the day of the wedding’, which some of us can, but most of us can’t. We the latter, need some form of speaking medium i.e. notes.  

There are five options to consider re; notes, namely;

  1. Pointer cards
  2. Full paper script
  3. Smartphone
  4. iPad
  5. Laptop

Pointer cards

Pointer cards are used to write down the main key points or keywords in your wedding speech. You will need to remember what each word/point means and be able to expand upon it, based on pre-speech practice and rehearsal. They are normally held in your hand, though can be left on the table too.

Full paper script

Here your full speech is written on paper in large font in front of you. The paper is normally left on the table and you basically have to read it out. There is no pressure in trying to remember any part of the speech, as it is all there in front of you. One must be careful, not to just read it out and lose the connection/rapport with their audience.

Smartphone

You can use your smartphone to have speech pointers on it or your full speech on it. The device is small and therefore could be difficult to manage and will have to be held in your hand. Might not look all that professional.  

iPad

You can use your iPad to have speech pointers or your full speech on it. The device is a nice size and can be held in your hand or left on the table.  

Laptop

Finally, the laptop is an option, though it can be and look big and awkward. It can have speech pointers or your full speech on it. The device will have to be left on the table.

What speaking medium suits you for your wedding speech, I know what I would choose…!

Start early…

When it comes to any major event, any and every Event Manager will tell you to ‘start early’. And there is no bigger event than arranging a wedding, probably the biggest event any couple will do in their lifetime, demanding a start time 2-3 years in advance in some cases. Breaking down the wedding in to its many components is the trick and then tackling each one in turn until complete is the key i.e. a developing a plan or worklist, where everybody and everything is included.

One of the key components to a wedding is the wedding speeches, that most times is last on the list or plan and sometimes doesn’t even make it on the list or plan. Why is this? For a lot of people, they feel that they will ‘wing’ the wedding speech on the day; they will write their wedding speech nearer the time or on the morning / day of the wedding or they don’t want to think about the wedding speech, because the thought of it upsets / worries them. The wedding speech is the one thing about the wedding that they are simply not looking forward to and hate doing it. But deep down they know it has to be done and they just keep putting the writing and delivery of the wedding speech on the long finger.

Don’t procrastinate and start early by;

• Purchasing a small notebook and pen (or using your smartphone note page)
• Immediately writing down people and things and what you want to say about them as they come to mind
• Opening up a Word document and transferring these into it by drafting the structure / content of the speech
• Doing something on the wedding speech everyday or every few days at least until complete
• Putting the main finishing touches to the wedding speech
• Practicing it
• Putting it away until a few weeks before the wedding and then fully completing it with a final practice rehearsal in the hotel venue

Start early…

Wedding Speeches

When should the great wedding speech be delivered…?

How weddings have changed over the decades! From a handful to 400-500 invited guests; one-two to six-eight bridal party members; a simple wedding car to expensive and large wedding cars; three course meals to six course meals; one to three live bands; simple attire to colorful and flamboyant dresses, suits and attire and off-the-cuff to well-prepared wedding speeches.

Speaking of the latter, wedding speeches are still an important part of a wedding and guests do look forward to hearing them, talking about them before, during and indeed after they’ve been delivered.

We have all heard of wedding speeches delivered before the meal, during the meal and after the meal, however it is of a strong opinion that the wedding speeches should be delivered after the meal. I know that for many bridal party speakers i.e. Father of the Bride Speech, Father of the Groom Speech, Bride Speech, Groom Speech and Bestman Speech (the five main speakers), they would prefer to have the wedding speeches before the meal, so they can enjoy their meal (some of them are paying for it!). However, it is all about the invited guests and how most of them (and indeed the wedding venue staff) would prefer the wedding speeches to be delivered after the meal for many reasons, some of which include:

  • The invited guests have been fed and watered and are not listening to wedding speeches on an empty stomach (at least of food, which would be the case before the meal, though weddings today do provide light snacks upon arrival at the wedding venue)
  • Food can be cooked and served at the agreed time (introduce the wedding speeches before the meal and their could be a delay of 15 minutes to 1.5 hours, driving the kitchen staff crazy trying to keep food freshly cooked, presentable and edible)
  • The wedding speeches act as the transition from the meal to the dancing (with nothing happening after the meal, people are expecting ‘a few words’ to be shared about the Bride & Groom after which they know they can get up, move around, take a break, go for a walk, go to the bar…)

It can be difficult for parents of the Bride & Groom to speak in public, as most of them would not be used of it. So, they could, if they so wished, speak before the / their meal.

There should still be some form of formal wedding speech(es) after the meal…