5 Important Protocols for Speech Rehearsal

How many times have you rehearsed a speech by mumbling the words to yourself while flossing your teeth in front of the bathroom mirror?

There are many important steps when preparing for and delivering a good speech, whether you’re giving a 12-minute TEDx talk or a 60-minute keynote. The most critical part, however, is the way you rehearse.

Here are five stages of the rehearsal process that the big stage professional speakers use to prepare for keynotes:

Rehearse Out Loud — It’s a Speech!

When you’ve finished writing and polishing your script, put your pen down. Now it’s time to make your speech an audible and visual embodiment of your thoughts. No more “reading it to yourself.” Read it aloud every time you practice, even before it’s memorized. The words of your script are a whole lot different on the page than they are coming out of your mouth!

When you first start reading aloud, you’re going to discover awkward phrases and sentences that make you trip over your own tongue. Edit your script accordingly so that the words flow more naturally. You’ll also get a sense of which words to emphasize and where you should pause for maximum dramatic effect.

AND, muttering your words under your breath while you memorize and rehearse doesn’t count. If you feel self conscious by practicing out loud, don’t worry — you’ll get over it! I used to be embarrassed to rehearse in front of my dog.

Rehearse Standing Up

While you’re memorizing, stand up. Engage your whole body when you speak — your arms, your legs, how you get from one place to another on the stage. When you memorize standing up, your words and body movements become ingrained, like muscle memory.

The most exciting speeches are given away from the podium. As a great speaker, you are a performer who connects with the audience body and soul — without dependence on Powerpoint slides and physical barriers.

Rehearse in Front of a Video Camera

When/if you rehearse in the front of a mirror, you’re not seeing what you actually look like to others. Your reflection is what you see. Moreover, you’re more uptight in front of your own reflection because rather than feel what’s going on with your face, you’re posing to please yourself and then judging the way you look.

Try rehearsing in front of a video or computer camera instead. You’ll get a chance to see yourself as your audience will see you. You’ll notice any unconscious quirks you have (we all got ’em), what your face is saying, how you’re moving your body, and opportunities for saying things differently or how you can move your body to display more confidence.

Rehearse for Many Hours

If you’ve spoken before, you’ve learned that limiting yourself to a couple of quick rehearsal sessions before your presentation is a terrible thing to do for yourself. Typically, your lack of preparation is obvious to the audience and often shows up in the comments of audience evaluation forms. I winged it for years, and noticed I was getting comments like, “Too much rambling,” and, “Ran out of time.”

The more you prepare, the better your speech will be. And the more you speak, the more highly skilled and entertaining you become. TEDx speakers often report having rehearsed 50 hours or more for a 10-minute talk. Professional public speakers rehearse every day. That’s true of any great skill, isn’t it?

Rehearse in Front of an Audience

You’ll never know how well your speech affects the audience until you have rehearsed in front of an audience. Before you give your “real” speech, do yourself a huge favor and perform it in front of live human beings. If you can, do this rehearsal in a space that’s close to the type of space you’ll be speaking in. When I’m in the final rehearsal sessions with my TEDx speaking clients, I actually put down a red, circular rug and we rehearse on a local stage. Of course, your living room is fine if that’s the best option.

I use a lot of humor in my speeches, so for me, it’s absolutely imperative to have a rehearsal audience to see if my jokes work and whether my content makes sense. It’s wonderful when your test audience laughs at your jokes and understands your material. It’s a drag when they don’t, but now you know what to fix or cut out.

I wrote a passage for a speech once that followed Professor Harold Hill’s cadence when he sang, “You got trouble, my friends, right here in River City,” from the classic musical, “The Music Man.” Everyone knows and loves “The Music Man,” right? After I performed it in rehearsal, several audience members asked me, “What’s the music man?” So I cut the bit.

If you can’t gather a large group of people to watch your rehearsal, consider having a speaking coach or speaker mentor be your audience — they will be objective and honest on your behalf and guide you to being even better.

Good luck, and have fun!

Why Imperfect Actions Make the Best Stories

Harry S. Truman said that, “imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.”

Most likely, he said this because he noticed that most people won’t try to do anything they think they can’t do perfectly on the first try. It’s also called “perfection paralysis.” It happens to writers a lot. It’s the leading cause of writer’s block.

It happens to everyone who begins to drift out of the “comfort zone.”

Then, a teacher or mentor comes along and says, “Gosh darn it, just write whatever comes to your head. All first drafts are sh*tty, no matter who you are. Get your thoughts down. Be messy!”

I’m in a program with 30 other high achievers who are intent on taking their speaking careers to the next level. These are amazingly accomplished people from all walks of life. An astronaut, several best selling authors, successful serial entrepreneurs, healthcare gurus, world travelers, big stage keynoters — and me.

One of the projects for the keynoters has been to draft a 45- to 60-minute keynote speech, which is about 6,000 words. And many of us were initially stuck, because we have a lot invested financially and emotionally in creating spellbinding presentations.

Even a room full of unquestionably talented industry experts were defaulting into the fear of taking imperfect action.

Because the reality is, when you have a big footprint and take imperfect action, the critics and haters come out, not to praise you for your courage and stick-with-it-ness, but to point out your imperfections and question your worthiness.

The corporate world is eons away from being supportive of imperfect action. So the creatives often get boxed into “safe zones” with well-defined parameters that discourage innovation and risk.

Because most of us speakers are in business for ourselves, we can try out all kinds of crazy ideas, and whether we win or lose isn’t important. It’s the bold act that counts in our culture. For instance, trying a new joke at a speaking gig. Sometimes, the audience will bust their sides laughing. Other times, they’ll look at you like you’ve just eaten a bug. Later, you can laugh about it, because of the support of your comrades in arms.

But our freedom to “just be me” was hard-earned, because most of us started our careers in soul-killing corporate cultures that punished, not rewarded, imperfect action, until a kindly mentor reminded us of our worth.

I’m in the infant stages of launching a series of humorous, 2-minute videos on YouTube. And so far, they’re awful. I can tell, because no one has said anything. Not even friends and family. That’s bad. But I don’t care. I’m going to keep taking imperfect action until they’re good — good enough that people tell me they’re good, and good enough to make the haters come out.

These videos are deliberate, imperfect action, because I am going to keep the project going until they’re good and have a huge following, and then I’ll write it up as a case study to give hope to other creatives everywhere.

Why not take imperfect action today, and then share your experiences via your blog or some other story telling vehicle? It’ll have struggle, conflict and an inspiring resolution — the stuff good stories are made of.




3 Ways to Spot an Untrained Speaker

Being able to speak well in public is an acquired skill that takes years, and tons of trial and error, to master. And the quest for mastery never ends. The professionals say they’re always learning and improving, and most claim to have coaches and colleagues to keep them at the top of their game.

It’s easy to spot a trained professional. They don’t use notes, they’re at ease on stage, their content is engaging and full of well-told stories, and they finish on time.

It’s easy, too, to spot someone who’s never received speaker training. Here are three:

Nervous pacing or freezing

An inexperienced speaker moves unconsciously on the stage through pacing, rocking back and forth, moving sideways by crossing one leg in front of another, etc. Others stay rooted to the spot.

The Cure — Long before memorizing your script, read your speech aloud at your dining room table and mark places in the script where movement will add drama and emphasis to what you’re saying. As you rehearse and become more familiar with the material, you can make continual improvements. Every movement you make is in service to your message and is well practiced.

Not using their voice as an instrument

Good speakers modulate their voices and deliver their speeches as if they were telling stories to first graders around the campfire. They’re loud, and then soft. They pause for emphasis. They don’t rush. They make the audience feel. An inexperienced speaker’s voice is devoid of emotion, difficult to hear and often unconnected to the material.

The Cure — A great speech is a performance that entertains the audience. As you plan your movements at the kitchen table, you should also be marking up your script to indicate where you’ll be loud or soft, where you’ll pause for dramatic effect, where you’ll smile, and how you’ll move your hands to illustrate what you’re saying. You’ll then practice on your feet, rehearsing your speech over and over until it is a part of you.

They read their Powerpoint slides

A good speaker doesn’t turn to look at their slides, and doesn’t rely on a slide’s bullet points to deliver the presentation. We’ve all been guilty of this at one time or another. The prevailing wisdom is to use as few slides as possible to make your point. None of them should have bulleted lists. Use charts, images and illustrations to reinforce your ideas.

The Cure — You make Powerpoint slides as an extra way to engage your audience and explain complex information, not to give yourself a cheat sheet. Always ask yourself, “Do I really need that extra slide?” or, “Do I need slides at all?”


Rehearse Out Loud

Does this sound familiar? You’ve got a script to memorize. Your method is to do it line by line. When you’ve got the first sentence memorized, you move on to the next and commit it to memory. Then you recite sentences one and two together. When you feel like you know it, you move onto sentence three, and so on.

But you may be doing something that’s setting you back — you’re not reciting your lines out loud. You’re mumbling them, or saying them in your head, even when you’re alone.

Experienced speakers and actors memorize and rehearse their lines out loud. In fact, they read their scripts out loud, over and over again, before they begin the memorization process. While reading, they listen for opportunities to emphasize certain words or phrases, when short or long pauses would create the best effect, what gestures to use for special dramatic effect, and where they’ll move on stage.

This method is called “motor learning,” (a.k.a. “muscle memory.”) When you repeat movements and variations of voice over a period of time, they become etched into your brain and when you’re on stage the movements flow naturally.

Some people are reluctant to rehearse their scripts out loud because they’re self-conscious. They’re afraid of appearing odd to the other members of the household. Rehearsing out loud also attracts house pets. I used to be reluctant to say my lines while I was driving, too, because I didn’t want other drivers to think I was nuts.

When speaking experts reminded me of the importance of saying my lines out loud, I threw self-consciousness to the wind and let it all hang out. The family gets used to it and stops teasing you, the pets are barricaded by a closed door, and other drivers don’t even notice you. And if they did, so what?

Oh, the freedom! Being able to let go gives you the opportunity to be your true self on stage. What’s more, the memorization process becomes so much easier because the more you practice, the more the material becomes ingrained.


It’s Good to be a Know-It-All


The holy grail for any public relations practitioner (like moi)  is having know-it-alls as clients. Why? Because one of the many things PR professionals do is connect news hungry media contacts with story ideas, inside information, resources and experts to interview.

To clarify, I’m using “know-it-all” in a pleasant business context. (No one likes that relative/boyfriend who refuses to accept other people’s opinions or who rattles on about the conspiracy of global warming at the Thanksgiving dinner table.) Rather, “know-it-all” refers to the subject matter expert (SME) who can tell you, on a moment’s notice, all you need to know about paper-to-digital imaging systems, the latest in HVAC technology, or how much ginger beer goes into a Moscow Mule.

If you are someone who knows a particular subject inside and out, you are rich in the currency of knowledge that is extremely valuable to media outlets who serve specific populations of readers, watchers and listeners. The media want your brain, your opinion, your insight, and the clever sound bites from someone who knows his/her stuff.

Blessed are those enlightened folks who know they’re experts and use it to their advantage to grow their businesses. It’s more typical, however for  potential SMEs to be unaware of the depth of their knowledge or how their expertise can be wielded like a hammer. What they know is obvious to them, so it must be obvious to everyone else, right? I used to think so.

My fabulous business coach, Darnyelle Jervey, taught me that one of the best ways to grow my business was through public speaking. Why? Because it’s proof to others, hopefully your ideal prospects, that you know what you’re talking about. Her advice made me uncomfortable. What if someone in the audience asked me a question I couldn’t answer? Surely my ignorance would be revealed and I’d be tarred and feathered as an impostor. Many, many speaking engagements later, however, I’ve learned that I can answer any single darned question with confidence and authority. Moreover, I could go on and on for days about my subject before they brought out the hook. So can you.

Following are just a few suggestions for leveraging your expertise so that you can attract media interest and earn the respect and confidence of your ideal audiences.

Take inventory of your professional knowledge.

As I mentioned, you know much more than you think you do. If you can’t quite nail it down, ask friends and coworkers for feedback. To borrow a sound bite from my coach, you can’t see the picture if you’re the frame. Ask yourself some questions. What’s the single biggest mistake your customers make when purchasing or using your product or service? What’s the history of your industry and the evolution of your type of offering? How do you do what you do so well? What do people need to know about why what you do is important? There’s a saying: People don’t know what they don’t know. What do you wish they knew?

Take on the mindset that you are in service to others.

How can you use your knowledge to help others? As an expert, your purpose is to educate, advise, promote understanding and provide assistance. Somehow, sometime, the knowledge you share is going to make a difference for someone.

Be informed about current events.

Watch the news. Read newspapers and industry trade publications. If you realize you can weigh in on something that’s going on in your community, state, region, country or world, be sure and let your media contacts know. It’s wonderful when a journalist calls you because you know the answers, can provide a unique perspective, or at least, know someone who knows.

I know nothing about plumbing, auto repair, groundhog control, home improvement, edible mushrooms, hooking up surround sound, fending off bear attacks, making tsatziki sauce, blow-drying my own hair or how to find water in the desert.

Do you? Know anyone who does? You do? Thank goodness. Now go and help humanity.

In what subjects are you an expert? Share your knowledge by commenting on this blog. Why not? It’s good practice.