Speaking did not come naturally to me. It was something I had to work on…a lot! So when I started out on my public speaking journey, I knew that I had to put in the time for a ton of deliberate practice. It was the only way I could deliver an effective speech.
I could easily tell the difference between the speeches where I have put in the work and time as compared to those that I have just “winged it” in.
When you have practiced your speech, you feel more confident about everything – about your speech, your ideas and of yourself! I find myself to be at ease when I’ve thoroughly practiced.
But what about those people that are naturally good speakers? Do they need the same amount of practice as I did? Probably so.
Here’s the thing, if you’re already a good speaker, it doesn’t mean you can’t improve. Time and again I see speakers who are naturally good on stage. But they consistently “wing” their speeches. There’s no deliberate amount of practice that goes into it.
While their speech is good, their speaking in general stays just the same – only good.
It never improves, while other speakers who do not start off with such glory, put in the time to practice for every speech they deliver and slowly but surely, overtake the natural talent.
We’ve seen this happen time and again in all sorts of industries.
So, whether you’re a naturally good speaker or a beginner who’s terrified of the stage, practice is important for everyone.
Just note, this article will address practicing for a speech that is anywhere from 3 to 15 minutes in length and is also under the assumption that you have around 7-10 or more days to practice for your speech.
For those of you who don’t have much time to prepare, you can read this article on practicing for a speech when you have none or very little time. But I do believe you will find this article helpful when it comes to practicing for speeches in general.
Jumping into it, here are some ways that have helped me make the most out of my practice and deliver some of the best speeches of my career.
I was at a Toastmasters meeting. I had just delivered a speech and one of the newer members came up to me and expressed his difficulty in practicing for a speech.
He asked me how to manage your time when you’re preparing for a speech since it is quite a time-consuming process. Here are some things to try:
The first thing when it comes to writing a speech is having the idea for it. What is the one thing you want to communicate to the audience? Your speech will be written around this idea.
Some people find it easy to come up with ideas, but in case you’re struggling with what to share with the audience, set aside a little time to decide this. You may come up with an idea, start writing a little around it and then decide to scrap it.
Here’s how you can carry down your idea – think of something you know (even a little) about, write that word down on a piece of paper.
Then, think of all the things associated with that word and write them down around it. This is called Mind-Mapping where you’re basically extending one thought to everything else associated with it.
Here’s a picture of a mind-map that I made when writing about a speech on millennials (excuse the handwriting!):
A lot of the points might not make sense to you or you may not even agree with them. But the point is to write down whatever it is that you know and perceive about a particular topic.
It would be unfair to give a set time for this since it is such a subjective matter. Ideas can come to anyone at anytime.
Usually what works for me is setting aside an hour a day for 3 days. If I come up with something before that, then great! If not, I just continue doing the same thing.
The reason I spread the hours across 3 days is for that gap of time where my mind can play around with the idea and maybe, stumble upon some inspiration for it.
Once we have the idea down, it’s time to write the speech. This part can get time-consuming. I usually give this about 6-8 hours spread out over a couple of days.
The reason I give more time per day to writing is because of the process of writing is such that once I start and am in the flow of things, it doesn’t make sense to stop and come back to it later unless you are stuck somewhere (you must have experienced this too!).
When you start writing, don’t worry about making everything perfect. That will delay the entire process. Just write your first draft.
When you actually start practicing, you will get a much better idea of what to add, subtract or change. After you’re done with a first draft, run it by a new pair of eyes if possible. It will help eliminate some of the obvious errors (if any).
If you would like to know more on speech structuring, I’ve described this process out in length in this article.
Now comes the part that requires your maximum time when it comes to practicing for a speech – rehearsing. I usually try and practice my speech 3 times a day for about 4-5 days.
That should be enough to internalize a speech. The techniques given below will help you in this process of rehearsing:
This is a highly debatable topic – practicing in front of a mirror. Many recommend it, many are absolutely against it. Here’s my take: when you write your first draft, I think it’s okay to start off with practicing in front of a mirror.
For me, initially practicing in front of a mirror helps me point out some of my most obvious mistakes and shows me how under-confident I really am.
I’ve found that trying different body language techniques, tonalities and maintaining eye contact with myself in front of a mirror is a quick and easy way to test yourself out.
However, don’t only practice in front of the mirror. The problem with a mirror is that it restricts us.
While rehearsing a speech, it’s important to walk around, visualize an audience and make sure you are looking all around the room, pretending that the audience is sitting in front of you.
It can be hard to do that when you’re in front of a mirror. So, start off by practicing in front of a mirror for quick and easy trouble-shooting and then move on to the next technique.
Video and Audio recording
This is by far one of the most effective methods of practicing. You don’t need anyone else to record a video of you. Just place your phone on an appropriate height (based on your height) and record.
Try not to use notes now. Again, it’s okay if your speech is yet not perfect! Just record yourself.
Start off with an audio recording. Focus on how your words are sounding. See what words you are emphasizing on, see where you require pauses.
The point of an audio recording is to completely focus on just the way your speech sounds.
When you hear your audio recording, listen to how you’re sounding. Are you sounding dull, are you pacing, can you go high at some points and low at others? It will help you refine your speech tonality.
Once you have that down, video record yourself to observe body language. When you see this video recording, take mental (or physical) notes of what you think you need to work upon – are you pacing too much, are your facial expressions not reflecting the mood of your speech, are you not using enough hand gestures?
All of this will be evident when you video record yourself. I usually keep taking videos throughout my rehearsing period, this helps me to keep identifying and troubleshooting mistakes.
The technique of using your mind to actually experience the speech before you go out and deliver it is called visualization. When you are practicing your speech, visualize your audience, their reactions, the stage, the venue.
All of this will mentally prepare you for when you actually do deliver your speech.
The reason why this is important is that many times we are great at delivering speeches in our own rooms while practicing. But when you go on a stage in front of an actual audience, suddenly it all falls flat!
So while practicing, if we visualize the scenario, it prepares us for the stage that much more.
This is something I developed over time. What it basically means is that, when you practice, you exaggerate every part of your speech. My hand gestures, tonality, movement – everything is exaggerated.
I do this to shock myself out of my comfort zone. As speakers, we want to come across as natural and authentic. We don’t want to be over dramatic or look like we are trying too hard. And that makes a lot of sense!
But the thing is that (at least when we practice) if we push ourselves to be completely animated and overdo all aspects of our speech, we get a feel of what it is like to be that outspoken speaker.
You don’t have to be like that on stage, just practice in that manner a few times. You have nothing to lose if you just try it.
After I have used the ‘exaggeration’ technique, I find that my natural speaking style automatically improves. My tonality is much more effective and body language is much more powerful.
It’s kind of like a warm up for your body. Try this out the next time you practice. You may just see some benefits that you haven’t experienced before.
This is a big one for me. I’ve had a lot of mentors throughout my public speaking journey.
Having a second pair of experienced eyes have a look at your speech and delivery is one of the most effective ways to practice. Your speech mentors have been in your shoes. They will be able to give you a fresh perspective on your speech.
Sometimes, we get so involved in our speech content, we may not realize that we have missed out on some basic points, or maybe our message is not coming across clearly. A lot of things improve when you run your speech by a more experienced speaker.
This does not mean to say you go out and hire some coach. Look around you and observe people who are effective communicators.
Toastmasters is an excellent platform to find speech mentors. They assign you an official mentor when you become a member, but you can always reach out to other speakers and ask for some guidance.
When you do this, however, make sure that you pick the right mentor. This can be tricky. But it’s important that you take the right advice from the right people.
A simple way to asses this is by asking yourself if you want to speak like that person speaks. For the most part, just go with your gut on this.
In case you cannot meet your mentor in person, that’s okay too. I usually cannot meet my mentors face-to-face as well. So, I just send them a video recording of my speech. They usually audio record their feedback and send it back to me. This process is quick, time-efficient and works perfectly fine!
Throughout this process, keep refining your speech. Just because you have written it down, doesn’t mean you can’t change it up! After practicing in front of the mirror, audio and video recording yourself, visualizing your audience, and running the speech by a mentor, keep noticing what you can do to improve your speech. By the time your turn to speak arrives, you will be ready to kill it!
How Many Time Should You Practice Your Speech?
This question of how to practice is mostly always followed by how many times should one practice before going up on stage.
I honestly do wish I had a magic number I could give you and tell you that if you practice these many times, you will be good to go!
Unfortunately, with each speech being different and each speaker being unique, it’s hard to come to one definitive number for this.
What I can say for sure is this: Practice as much as you can! There is no way you can over-practice your speech anyways. So no matter how much or how little time you have, practice as much as you can!
In speeches where which are more PPT-based and where I have visual cues to guide me, I’m good to go after 3-4 times of practice.
In a Toastmasters speech with no lectern or notes, I need to rehearse at least 3 times a day for 7 days for a completely new speech!
For speeches that I am kind of familiar with, a day or two of practicing the speech 5-7 times is enough for me.
But that’s just me! The thing is, practicing for a speech depends on SO many factors:
- You (the speaker)
- Your speech
- The length of your speech
- Your audience
- The importance of your speech
And so much more!
Take all of these factors into account and practice till the time you feel you are comfortable enough to deliver the speech.
Speech Practice Exercises
While practicing your content and delivery, there are other exercises that you can do to make your voice clearer and your body more fluid for the stage which I have personally found to be very helpful:
You know those emojis you have on your phone? When you practice, just make 5-10 of those facial expressions yourself.
It may sound absurd. But one of the biggest hurdles with people who are afraid of speaking in front of crowds is that their bodies are extremely tight.
Our faces are a huge part of our delivery. If our facial muscles are tight, we lose out on communicating our message with that much more effectiveness.
Making those emoji faces yourself will help stretch your muscles in unfamiliar ways. If this is done consistently over a period of time, you will start using your expressions a lot more freely and effectively.
Body Shake (Bioenergetics)
Before starting to practice your speech, make your body more fluid by vigorously shaking your entire body – your arms, legs, head. Doing this for about a minute or so continuously will loosen up your body and make your entire stage movement a lot more fluid.
I learned this a long time ago from a YouTuber I used to watch called Eliott Hulse. You can watch his bioenergetics video here which will provide you exercises to improve body language and confidence.
Back in college, I participated in a few fashion shows where I was required to ramp walk. I didn’t realize how difficult this was until I tried it! Walking with confidence especially when people are staring at you was quite scary!
We would practice in our colleges compound, where everyone could see us. As I continued to walk, very conscious of the fact that people were looking at me, I became more and more oblivious to their stares and more confident in my walking.
I began walking like how would I walk on a ramp all the time – shoulders back, chest out with a subtle smirk. It’s become a lot more natural to me now and has helped me improve my body language in general and has helped in ways that go beyond public speaking.
To Memorize or Not?
When it comes to practicing for a speech, the question “Should I memorize my speech or not?” is one of the most common concerns. This has been addressed in detail here.
In short, however, I try and not memorize my speech. One of the best pieces of advice I have received when it comes to public speaking is, “Do not mug (memorize) your content. Know your content.”