NOTE: This post builds on the ideas discussed in Public Speaking Tip 98: For a Successful Presentation, Get Your Attitude Together Before You Prepare Your Speech and concludes with Public Speaking Tip 100: For a Successful Presentation, Go for What You Know with Your Audience.
A lot of people don’t practice for big presentations because they “don’t have time.”
But practicing doesn’t take as long as you might think, because you don’t practice your entire speech at once.
That’s because your speech is a collection of individual ideas — and if you practice them individually, throughout your day, they’ll take much less time to master.
Free Up Time by Avoiding These Practice Mistakes
Practice Individual Ideas Instead of Running the Same Ground Over and Over
You’ve probably seen hamster wheels, right? They go in the cages of small animals, and the hamster or mouse runs around and around and around and around.
When you practice your entire speech from beginning to end, beginning to end, over and over and over again, you’re doing something similar — creating lots of forward motion that won’t necessarily get you very far.
- Practicing your entire speech over and over limits your view of its power and points of interest. Instead, the whole thing starts to mush together in your mind.
- Practicing in a linear way (start to finish, start to finish) makes your speech feel like something to just get through. Most people start rushing, instead of savoring the different ideas and moments of your talk.
- People usually run out of practice time when they’ve only gotten halfway through their speech. If they start at the beginning again every day, they’re at risk of eventually arriving at the podium without ever having practiced their ending!
By practicing individual ideas from throughout your entire speech, you’ll avoid all these problems and can focus on your speech’s most interesting or challenging sections, no matter where in the speech they occur.
Practice Individual Ideas Instead of Practicing Stopping
The beauty of practicing is that, whatever you practice, that’s what you learn. Which is fine, unless you practice stopping.
What does it look like to practice stopping? Here’s one common example:
Dear Friends, I’m so happy to see you all here on this momentous occasion. No, wait, “momentous” is too pretentious, let me try “happy.”
Dear Friends, I’m so glad to see you all here on this happy occasion. Wow, that’s really lame. Maybe “joyous” would work better.
Dear Friends, it’s so good to see you here on this…
There are two problems with this approach:
- Nobody cares what word you choose (they’re all good!), so you’re wasting time over something that doesn’t matter; and
- You’re teaching yourself to stop and go back to the beginning every time you say something you don’t love.
You are almost certainly going to say things you don’t love when you deliver your talk (or in this case, toast), but you aren’t going to stop and start over from the beginning, so this is not a good habit to cultivate!
How Do You Practice Individual Ideas?
It’s a mix and match process. You can plan it in advance, or approach it spur-of-the-moment.
If your speech has three main sections, and you have time to work on the whole thing every day, you might practice these permutations:
- Section 1, then 2, then 3
- Section 1, then 3, then 2
- Section 2, then 3, then 1
- Section 2, then 1, then 3
- Section 3, then 1, then 2
- Section 3, then 2, then 1
Voilà, a week’s worth of practicing!
And if you’re just practicing one section a day — you probably have time for that, right? — try sections 2-3-1-3-2-1, or some other variation.
Is It Enough to Just Practice Individual Ideas?
To guarantee that your speech flows comfortably, and that you and your audience always know where you’re going, you should also practice your opening, your close, your transitions (if you’re using slides, practice your PowerPoint transitions, too!), and any stories you’re going to tell.
But these are short segments, and can be practiced using the mix-and-match technique described above.
Longer speeches have longer “supporting sections,” but those are also just longer chains of individual ideas.
The many posts on this site about how to practice will help — and be sure to consider questions like whether you should memorize (all or part of) your speech. But whatever you do, don’t turn practicing into a big, monolithic, intimidating task.
Remember: It’s almost always possible to find a few minutes in your busy day to practice… and you might even enjoy them!
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