I learned the adage “don’t practice in public” long before becoming a corporate speechwriter and then founding Speak Up for Success.
Back when I was an old school jazz singer, we used to say, “Don’t shed on the stand” (which means the same thing).
- “Shed” refers to a mythic rural past in which musicians used to practice in the woodshed.
- And “stand” means “bandstand.”
Don’t practice in public, right?
It was great advice for a young jazz singer, and it’s great public speaking advice!
But, even today, many executives act like it’s OK to take the stage and deliver a talk that they’ve practiced… oh, never?!
What Is Practicing, and Why Do So Many People Avoid It?
By definition, “practice” is the act of working on something you don’t know how to do yet.
This can be tough on your ego — but if you think it’s hard to hear yourself stumble through a first reading, why would you want an audience to hear you, too?
So before you hide under the bed rather than practicing, think about which of these attitudes will help you most:
#1. Ohmigod, I don’t know how to deliver this speech, so I must be a complete and utter failure!” (Let’s call this “the wrong way” to think about it!),
#2. OK, I don’t know how to deliver this speech, so I’ll work on it slowly and gently until I’ve got it under my belt.”
If #1 describes your attitude, you’re probably not going to practice, and you certainly won’t enjoy the experience.
But if you can adopt point of view #2 (or even pretend to), you’re ready to improve your public speaking skills.
You’re Convinced by “Don’t Practice in Public.” Now, How Do You Practice Privately?
Practicing is a skill in itself (I’ve written a slew of blog posts on the subject, and they’re worth checking out).
But let’s start with three things you can work on for fast results:
- Practice your attitude. Having the “right words” won’t matter if you don’t connect with your audience, and that connection rests on your attitude. If your attitude is one of comfort and wanting to connect, people will respond; so practice having that attitude.
- Practice your transitions. Be sure you always know what’s coming next, and as you work through your speech, lead people into your next point just like you would lead guests from room to room if you were giving them a tour of your house.
- Practice anything that needs extra polish. In general, that means your opening, close, and key message, as well as any anecdotes or complicated points that you want to reliably deliver in a concise way.
There will be things in your speech that you’ve said 100 times before, or that you know inside out, upside down and standing on your head.
You don’t need to practice them!
Similarly, resist the temptation to always start practicing at the beginning and go straight through to the end.
Mix things up. Practice the hard parts first. Pick up halfway through, or begin with your last section.
This keeps your practicing fresh, and gives you a vastly more nuanced connection to your speech, pitch or message.
Practicing: You Can Do This!
The main thing to know about practicing is that anything beats nothing by a mile. Don’t wait for the perfect time, setting, or mood. Pick something small from a speech or message that you’ll be delivering soon, and practice it.
Whether you’re working with a speaker coach, or going it alone, you’re better off practicing for one minute a day than practicing for an hour a week. Anyone can find one minute a day, and the benefits are pretty exciting.
Which you’ll find out, once you begin!