Practice your speech using these 3 hacks

When you’re in an audience, what has more influence on your assessment of a speaker – the content or the way the speaker delivers it?

We’ve all seen the speaker who can’t get out of his or her own way – the one who doesn’t even give you a chance to contemplate the quality of the content because you just can’t get past the uninspired, distracting, or just plain bad delivery.

How can you make sure that your good content doesn’t go to waste?

Here are three hacks that top speakers know. Try them and watch your audiences feel more connected to you, more ready for your call to action.

1. Rehearse until you don’t look over-rehearsed.

Yep, practice until you look so natural they’ll think you’re speaking off the cuff. That doesn’t mean you should memorize every word – that’s the very definition of over-rehearsed. What the pros do is spend time making sure their narrative flow is perfect and their stories work – not obsessing over the exact words.

One recent client shared this neat trick with me – he divided his speech into nine sections from intro to call to action and conclusion, and assigned each section to a player on a baseball diamond. His intro was the pitcher, his next point the catcher, and then around the infield from first to second to third, then shortstop, and then to the outfield with left and center, finishing up with his conclusion in right field. If you’ve ever kept score at a game, you know that’s how the positions are numbered, so my client simply associated a topic sentence or a specific story with each player and used his knowledge of his content to carry him through the speech. If he got lost, he just went back in his mind to his baseball metaphor, and he never had to worry about getting out of order. If baseball’s not your game you can use the aisles in a grocery store, the layout of your house, the order you follow when putting on makeup in the morning, or a meal from hors d’oeuvres through dessert. To make sure you don’t get lost within a section, take advantage of every opportunity you can to rehearse, saying what you want to say in your own words. Are you on your commute? In your office between meetings? Out walking the dog? Waiting for the oven timer to ding? Rehearse! Once you’ve written a script to make sure you hit all your key points and have a compelling narrative arc, don’t worry about using the exact same words every time – just get the points made in the right order and you’ll be much more relaxed and effective in front of any audience.

2. Practice making eye contact.

Connecting with audience members by locking eyes keeps them focused, and gives you the opportunity to speak as if you are speaking to an audience of one – a tactic for reducing nerves.

Get ready for this during your rehearsals. I once had a client on stage getting ready for a major address, and we positioned members of the stage crew and her own team around the auditorium so she could practice connecting with different parts of the room throughout her remarks. If you don’t have the luxury of a full rehearsal in the actual room in which you’ll be presenting, you can still practice this essential bit of human connection by placing pictures around the room, or even “targeting” specific items in the room. From the book with the red spine, to the plant on the side-table, to the lamp on the desk, to the painting on the wall – just remembering to keep your body and your eyes moving, not just staring into space or always at the same person.

3. Use your full vocal range.

We’re animals, and that means that we’re biologically wired to pay attention to differences. We’ll tune out anything monotone, but add some variation and it gets our attention. When you raise your voice to make a point, or introduce an aside with a stage whisper, it makes the audience take notice. And silence – silence make people uncomfortable and you’d be surprised how effectively you can get an audience anticipating your next words when you take a nice long pause to let a prior point sink in, or to signal a transition.

Not every word of a speech needs to be delivered with urgency – save the highest drama for your biggest points, and be aware of the power of conversational tone vs. what I call “State of the Union” tone. When you are “just talkin’” with an audience you’re relatable and building trust, so that when you do get to a key line like your summary or a call to action you can use a more pressing tone of voice to make these parts stand out.

These three tips – rehearse properly and often so you can look comfortable and unrehearsed; make eye contact; and use the full power of your voice – are how the top speakers build their skills. Try them before your next presentation at the office or your next speaking engagement, and watch the praise roll in!

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