Imagine that you’re sitting down to a five-course tasting menu at a top restaurant. (And if you’ve never done that — I haven’t, either! — just indulge me in this little fantasy, OK?)
- First they bring out this cool little appetizer. It’s literally cool, creamy, foamy, some kind of avocado creation that melts on your tongue.
- Then they bring the salad. Crispy, green, a little pungent, with a tangy dressing. What’s that you’re tasting? Arugula?
- And here comes a pasta dish. Lightly red-sauced, al dente, and… hmmm, is it sweet?
- For those of us who still eat meat, here comes a small plate of steak au poivre. Peppery, juicy, just a few satisfying bites. And last but not least,
- Dessert. A rich, melt in your mouth chocolate concoction with just a hint of hazelnut.
Yum, yum, yum!
Your Speech, Like a Tasting Menu, Should Be Savored
OK, now imagine that you sit down at the same elegant restaurant table, determined to endure the tasting menu experience.
You start eating at course one, and plow your way through whatever they put in front of you until you get through to the end and are finished eating.
And just to make the analogy more speech-like, imagine that you do this without pausing, without stopping to notice how one course is different from the next, without savoring anything in particular, and — here’s the real problem — without taking a breath.
Your tasting menu isn’t going to taste very good!
It’s clear that the problem here is lack of attention and care. But what’s less clear (and sad) is that speechmakers get this result all the time because of the way they’re practicing.
What’s Wrong with Practicing Your Speech from Beginning to End?
A BIG MISTAKE that almost everyone makes when they practice to give a speech is doing the same thing over and over again:
- Practice Session #1: Start reading or delivering your speech at the beginning and plow through the speech until you reach the end.
- Practice Session #2: Start reading or delivering your speech at the beginning and plow through the speech until you reach the end.
- Practice Session #3: Start reading or delivering your speech at the beginning and…
Is this how you practice? (And if you don’t practice before giving a speech, please let this post inspire you to try it!)
Can anyone say IN-FLEX-I-BLE?
I’ve made this mistake myself, so I know how tempting it is to just get this damned practicing over with. But that “plow through” attitude will wring all of the flavor and delight from your speech, just as it would with our tasting menu.
Plus, if you always practice from beginning to end, you’ll be unprepared for the disruptions, distractions, and changes that may happen when you actually give the speech. You’ll be like a row of dominoes that can topple if just one element gets jostled.
On the other hand, you’ll manage interruptions or less-than-ideal public speaking scenarios much better when you’ve practiced your speech flexibly, course by course, mixing up the sections.
How to Not Turn Your Speech Into a Plate of Hash
If you’ve built your speech using the Instant Speech format, you already know that it has sections — and if you’re new to the Instant Speech approach, don’t worry; your speech probably has sections, too. So with that in mind, you can:
- Look at your script, notes, bullet points, or slide deck, and notice where every section begins and ends.
- Choose a random section, and practice it.
- Tomorrow, choose another random section to practice.
- As your tolerance for practicing grows, and you’re able to practice for longer periods of time, pick a random place in the speech and practice delivering it from that point to the end.
- And here’s the graduation exercise: Deliver your entire speech, section by section, but starting with the last section and working your way backwards to the front (your attention grabber).
Yes, I know this sounds crazy. But practicing in this way will greatly increase your ability to:
- Understand your speech as a series of sections (courses), each with its own rhythm and flavor;
- Respond flexibly if you have to adjust or regroup while presenting — perhaps by shortening a section, or changing the order of points because of your audience’s reaction.
In the end, thinking about and practicing your speech in this way will make you happier.
Because, as any satisfied diner can tell you, it’s much more fun to savor a tasting meal, one course at a time, than it is to plow through a big plate of hash!