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!