The Speaking Practically Blog Has Moved!
Find the old posts and new posts at
I don’t think I should have won that one specific speech contest. There was another contestant who I thought had a better speech. She was more vulnerable with the audience. She pulled in our emotions. She talked about a subject that is more relatable to the audience. She used great word choices. If you look at content, hers was clearly better than mine. Yet I won the contest. Why? Because I was better prepared.
My friends and family will tell you I’m a very competitive person. When I decided to enter the speech contests, I wanted to win. I rehearsed my speech repeatedly. I got feedback from other people. I rehearsed some more. I studied what those who won contests in the past had done. I rehearsed again. I worked really hard and my preparedness paid off. And I won the contest against a better speech.
Now maybe when you speak, you’re not doing it as a formal contest. But when you speak for business, I’m guessing that it’s important that you win too. So are there some lessons from my obsessive rehearsal that can apply to your presentations? You be the judge.
“Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen? Chance favors only the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur
I know I always feel like I need another week to really be prepared for my next presentation, no matter how much prep time I’ve had. But I think two of the reasons that rehearsal are important is to (1) reinforce that I really know my material and (2) fumble around with my phraseology during rehearsal rather than during my presentations.
Reinforcement – I Know this Stuff Cold
Inevitably when I talk to someone who is afraid of public speaking, one of the phrases I eventually hear is – “Well … if it’s a subject I know really well, then I’m OK.” Even those comfortable with speaking in front of a group feel better when they know their subject thoroughly. Rehearsing your presentation out loud, as you plan to deliver it to your client or your prospect helps give you that feeling like you really know your stuff. Saying the words standing up and out loud gets your body’s muscle memory working for you. I first discovered how the muscle memory associated with words works when I was acting in community theater. If I always said a certain line while walking stage left, that line felt good and natural when I said it moving stage left. The same is true with a presentation. If I always advance the slide when I make a certain point, then it feels comfortable, like I know what’s coming next. If I move from the audience’s left to right when I’m rehearsing a story that progresses over time, then the story and the movement flow together naturally. Feeling good about how you’re going to deliver your speech will help with the nerves no matter how nervous you get.
Nail Your Phraseology
Have you ever had that sensation in an ordinary conversation when you thought, “Gee, that sounded better in my head”? What makes you think a presentation will be any different? Thinking something in your head is not the same as saying it out of your mouth. If you practice out loud you’ll fumble around with how to best phrase your thoughts so they can be understood. But you’ll do it in the privacy of your rehearsal space instead of in front of an important audience. If you make yourself say the whole presentation out loud, then you can hear when a transition isn’t working and determine better how to more fluidly flow from one idea to the next.
Now this assumes a couple of things. (1) You’re not trying to memorize your entire presentation – memorization is generally not a good idea and (2) While you may have written out your presentation, you’re NOT going to read it. Whether you just give yourself an outline or if you write out what you plan to say, do rehearse delivering your presentation out loud as if you’re having a conversation with the people who happen to be in the room. But don’t read it!
Get Lucky with Your Rehearsal
I got lucky and won that speech contest because I put in the time and energy to rehearse. You may not be the end all be all to that client or prospect. But if you’re prepared, you’ve got a much better chance at getting lucky.
What Is Your Rehearsal Strategy? What Has Worked Well for You and Why?
I’d love to hear what you’ve found to be the most effective ways to rehearse. If you already say your presentation out loud as part of your rehearsal, how many times do you say it aloud? What has helped you the most in becoming comfortable with your material? Please share in the comments!