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.