A lesson I learnt the hard way.
It was a small audience. And I only had to speak for an hour. Neither one of them justified my bad performance.
The week, before, turned out to be busy. With one too many things to do, I did not rehearse my speech as I always would. It was a speech I had delivered many times before. So, I simply told myself, it would be alright. My familiarity with the subject, and years of speaking experience will compensate for my lack of preparation.
Boy! was i wrong? The speech turned out to be a disaster. I stuttered. Stammered. Caught myself searching for the next point to make. The lack of practice also showed in my non-verbals. Net result, it was one of my tardier performances.
As a stickler for good speeches, I take a lot of pride in delivering perfect speeches every single time. It didn’t seem like the audience saw my botched performance. But, I ended up a horrible mess for a job poorly done.
Once bitten, twice shy. Lesson well learnt. A mistake never to be repeated.
The audience is coming there to listen to our speech either to be entertained, educated or both. And as a speaker we owe it to them, to give exactly what we promised to give them. Anything less, we have no business being in the profession.
The only way to do is to Practice. Practice. Practice.
The To Do
Here is how I practice. Right before an event, I deliver the speech to an empty room multiple times. Over and over. Full length. The same way I would do it in front of a live audience, with all the vocal variety, gestural variety, pause, eye contact the whole nine yards.
Yes, it feels weird the first few times. Funny as well. Weird. If it will help, drag a few chairs and line it up in rows in front of you, to give the feel of people sitting and listening to you. For good measure, you need to time your speeches as well. Over time, you will not need the chairs anymore.
My minimum is thrice. When I have the luxury of time, four or more times. When I did my TEDx speech, it was more like thirty plus times.
And the results will speak for itself. When I practice that many times, I deliver a speech that the audience enjoys, appreciates and walks away having learnt something useful.
No substitutes or shortcuts here.
And the Not To Do
A lot of people prepare for their speeches. But instead of speaking it like they would do in real time, they flip through the material or slides and mumble the speech to themselves. They quickly tell themselves ‘ok, I know this’, ‘I got this one’, ‘this is easy’ etc. They zip through the speech in a quarter or half the time. And when they deliver it for real, most often they are almost mumbling it in realtime as well. The lack of preparation never gives them the full confidence in their speech and the audience will know it.
Bottomline, if you are going to practice, do it like you would do in real time. Vocalize. Verbalize. Talk it out.
No mumbling. No presumed familiarity of content. No more being satisfied with experience.
A world renowned speaker who I admire and follow closely, has been delivering the same speech for thirty plus years. After all these years, he still practices his speeches two days before the actual speech. And people pay serious money to listen to him again and again. I know people who have been to his classes over twenty times. Listening to the same thing. Practice never goes out of fashion, no matter how many years you have been in the profession.
You simply owe it to the audience.
Repetition IS, indeed, the mother of skill.