“Oh, no, I hate practicing speeches, standing in front of the mirror and watching myself talk and practicing gestures. It feels so phony!”
GOOD NEWS! You don’t have to do all of practice of your speech practice out loud. And you certainly don’t have to do a lot of practice in front of others. Accurate mental rehearsal has somewhere between 75% and 85% of the benefit of physical practice. Olympic athletes are masters of accurate mental rehearsal. Look at the results they achieve.
What do I mean by accurate mental rehearsal? An example will help. When I am going to give a talk-I don’t give speeches, I give talks-I see myself walking up to the stage with confidence, shoulders back, stride purposeful. I clearly imagine a calm smile on my face as I stand and survey the audience, picking out individuals in the crowd and making eye contact with them.
I see myself telling my opening story, mentally rehearse my timing, and visualize moving with purpose about the stage. I mentally rehearse pausing, and silently counting one thousand, two thousand, three thousand. I practice silence. Most of us are familiar with the concept of white space. In the print world and web world, this is space on a page that contains nothing. The absence of text makes the words and symbols on the page stand out. Silence during a talk or speech frames your words and gestures, making them stand out.
I practice my breathing, making sure that I am standing while I practice, even mental rehearsal, making my practice as close to reality as I can. A sports analogy applies here. You play like you practice.
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Once you have done your mental rehearsal you still have to practice your speech or talk. Anyone who has ever done theatre will know the phrase being “off book.” This means that by a certain date you will be working without your script. Delivering a talk or speech by reading, rather than being able to memorize or extemporize, is the one of the marks of good speaker.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t have notes, bullet point notes or three by five cards, or notes on your iPhone to remind you. Having these notes gives you a reason to create white space in your talk. Walk to your podium or table at a point where you want people to process what you have just said. Glance at your notes, especially your questions to the audience and then ask your question.
Once you are off book have at least one practice run in front of an audience, even if it is an audience of one and then have a dress rehearsal. This dress rehearsal is in the same clothes at the same time, with the same equipment you will use for your live talk. And, it is best do have the live rehearsal in the same venue as your talk.
Action Items/Activity Triggers
1. Practice is necessary and much of it can be done through accurate mental rehearsal
2. Don’t read your speech, learn it
3. Have at least one dress rehearsal