A story often told to aspiring musicians is about a young violinist flagging down a New Your City cabbie to ask: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall.” And the cabby in a New York minute, without skipping a beat replied ” practice! practice!! practice!!! dear friend” And your fare may also suddenly double as your cabbie takes you the scenic route.
Similarly, if you ask anyone who coaches speakers professionally, how do you go from good to great? They will tell you- you must know when to practice, what to practice, how to practice, and why you practice. They will also advise you to practice as you intend to deliver your presentations when facing your audiences. And you must also practice until you are comfortable with who you are and the message you plan to deliver.
Having a great speech is only one of the first steps in bringing that speech to the platform. It is a process. The word practice can be a verb or a noun. In the speaking world, practice is a verb. You are performing an activity or exercise. When you repeatedly complete a skill, you improve or maintain your proficiency. Doctors and lawyers have practices. Their practice, the noun, defines the type of business or service they provide.
Whether your practice is a verb or noun, the purpose is to keep improving; perfection is an opinion or an illusion. However, whatever you practice will become permanent. For that reason, it is crucial to examine your practices as you practice. Your practice approach will determine your success or failure when you are on the platform.
For example, rehearsing your speech in the shower, while driving, or lying in bed is not exactly practicing. You are sequencing. You are just arranging your thoughts in a particular order. While that is helpful, it is a far cry from practicing. Sequencing puts your presentation’s words, paragraphs, and ideas in the correct order in your head. While sequencing is an essential step in your preparation, it is not ready for delivery when that speech is still in your head.
You must then move that presentation from your head to your heart. You can choose to avoid that extra step of sequencing. Instead, some speakers prefer to practice as if they are always speaking to an audience. That approach helps the speaker develop muscle memory, which you cannot do effectively in bed, shower, or driving. It requires your total body involvement. Accentuating the six emotions as you practice is most important. Those emotions are happiness – sadness – fear – anger – surprise, and disgust.
You should also avoid practicing in front of mirrors. Speakers tend to focus more on themselves when they practice in front of a mirror. Instead, the focus should be on your audience. Speaking to cameras is also a challenge most speakers face when delivering an address over zoom. But you will find recording yourself and analyzing your presentation is far more effective than practicing in front of mirrors. Mirrors can also be a distraction. You may find yourself focusing on every little mistake you made and not running your speech from start to finish. Again, what you practice becomes permanent.
Just as that young musician had to practice the works of the masters to attain a standard to perform at Carnegie Hall, speakers should also study the speeches of speakers they admire. As you listen and analyze their speeches, take note – they tell a story to make a point, or make a point and then tell a story. They deliver their stories with conviction using those emotions to which all humankind relates. And with practice, your storytelling becomes natural as you become an authentic storyteller.
Anyone who has attained greatness in their chosen field will tell you it took many hours, days, and years of practice. But how they practiced was also very important. They also had specific workout routines. They had different exercises and drills for each day. Before they began to practice, they knew what to focus on during each session. They knew how many times they would practice each routine. And they practice uninterrupted from start to finish.
Speakers should also make sure they practice delivering their presentations to an audience. If you don’t have an audience, create one – chairs, trees, dolls. Use whatever that will not talk back to you. Feedback will come in your testing phase. Practice, Practice, Practice but do it right. And the day will come when you too will be on your way to the Carnegie Hall of public speaking – at your club, contests, or who knows – The World Championship of Public Speaking.