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Public Speaking Practice

This lesson is a part of an audio course Nail Your next Business Presentation by Emily Carlson Goenner

In our last lesson, we focused on anxiety and fear related to public speaking. As we know, preparation is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety, so this lesson focuses on the practicing aspect of public speaking.

The aspects of practice can be divided into the following categories: content, delivery, visuals. Let's talk briefly about each one.

When referring to content, I mean, how do you remind yourself of your information? You've spent a lot of time preparing for this presentation, so you have a good idea of the content. Hopefully, you're presenting on a topic you care about, but even if you aren't, for this presentation, you are the expert on the topic, and you need to share your information.

Consider the type of person you are—will you be able to remember most of your presentation, so you just need notes to remind you of major points? Or are you, like me, a very nervous speaker who wants a detailed script of everything I plan to say? Find a way that works for you. You can have notes during your presentation, most of the time. Use note cards vs a notebook or loose paper to reduce shuffling and paper noise. Don't, though, don't put everything you plan to say on your slides, or use your slides as your notes. As we talked about in the lesson on visuals, you want images, not text, and the slides are for the audience, not you as the speaker.

If you are a person, like me, who likes to script your presentation, don't try to memorize your speech. The risk with memorization is you will get distracted or lost and not be able to find your place again. But, a script is different. A script is a detailed guide to work with, but it gives you room to change, add or delete, to speak with interest and humanness vs a memorized script.

Practicing with notes or a script is different from memorizing your speech because of how you will practice with it. Many people will plan what they want to say and read their presentation several times. But that isn't enough. You need to say it, out loud. Repeatedly. Some people suggest practicing your presentation in front of other people, but I think practicing to yourself is effective too. The more I become more comfortable with the presentation and what I plan to say. This also helps reduce the use of filler words like um and ah and like. These filler words can kill a presentation because the audience begins focusing on them instead of the content of the presentation, and you, as the presenter, look less competent and prepared. I don't memorize the speech, but I say it, over and over, until I am comfortable. Each time varies some, but overall, I cover the same information.

Next, you will layer in your delivery. Delivery includes your voice, where you stand, and your gestures.

Borrow a trick from actors and great orators (people who give speeches) and write cues and reminders for yourself. What tone of voice do you want to use? Is it louder here and softer there? Practice different tones and vocal variations. Vocal variation refers to the pace and tone of your speech. Everyone has listened, or tried to listen, to a monotone speaker who drones on without interest or variation in tone. The rising and falling of your voice adds interest to the listener and emphasizes certain points of your presentation. Think about this as you are saying your speech.

Make notes on your script. You might write (smile) or (pause) at certain points where that will add to the delivery of your message. You might write louder at one point, or rising tone, at another. Some people speak very quickly when they are nervous, so maybe you need to write, slow down, in your notes. These cues are important in helping you perform naturally, which seems counter-intuitive, I know. Most people freeze or ramble when they're nervous, so practicing and identifying where to add vocal variety is the key to appearing relaxed and confident.

Next, consider where you will stand. It's good to get acquainted with the space in which you will speak, so if at all possible, visit the space well before your presentation. Decide where you will stand when you start. Avoid standing behind a podium or desk. These act as barriers between you and the audience. You might feel safer and less vulnerable behind a podium, but you will be more related to the audience if you come out from behind the barrier and move across the stage. Plan your movement and make notes in your script or notecards. Some people suggest a four-point movement pattern—start in the center, move left (or right), back to center, forward, center, move right (or left) and back to the center. If you're not comfortable on stage, this plan can help you add movement to the presentation without being too complicated.

Next, think about your gestures and eye contact. You want to come across as relaxed, natural, confident, and happy to be there. So consider how you will use your hands. Open palms usually demonstrate honesty and friendliness. A firm closed fist might be used to make a strong point. You might use your hands to demonstrate size or relationship. You want to act naturally, but again, sometimes acting naturally requires preparation and thought.

Next, plan your eye contact. Making eye contact is so important to show you are connected to and concerned about the audience. But, making eye contact can be intimidating. So, look for friendly, responsive audience members—the ones who smile and nod in response to your points. Or look just over people's heads—it will appear like you're making eye contact but may be less intimidating to you. In your notes, remind yourself to look around the room. You want to speak to the entire audience, not just one section.

A few more tips. Smile—that's the most important thing to do when giving a presentation. The audience will find you relatable and be more receptive to your message.

Be yourself, even when it's scripted. Use your hands, move around the stage, look at the audience. People don't want to listen to a robot standing behind a podium, they want to listen to a person. Talking with words, phrases, tones, and pauses that you would usually use, will help you come across as confident and at ease.

Avoid telling the audience how nervous you are or if you make a mistake. Often, the audience won't notice your nerves, and certainly won't notice them the way you do. So, you don't want to point them out! Same with a mistake—the audience doesn't know your preparation or plan, so they won't know if you miss an example or forget a section. Just keep going.

All of these tips and tricks will help you prepare to present with ease and confidence. The more you practice, the easier it will be.

Today's task is to practice your presentation. Plan your words, pauses, movements, gestures. Plan where to stand, how to deal with your slides, and how to answer questions. Practice out loud, practice in the space if possible, practice alone, or with an audience.

In the next lesson, its presentation day—we will explore a few ways to help your presentation go smoothly.