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Tag Archives: Practice

Do You Rehearse in Your Head?

Would you pay $200 for a ticket to see a Broadway show if you knew that the actors never once rehearsed their lines?  Of course you wouldn’t.  And yet, most presenters stand and deliver without ever practicing their remarks out loud.

The other day I was walking past a couple of guys having lunch and I heard one of them say, “My big presentation is tomorrow and I’ve had no time to practice.”  At this I slowed my pace so I could officially eavesdrop.  He continued, “Well, that’s not exactly true – I’ve rehearsed it in my head.”  To which the other guy said, “Then you’ll be fine.”  Now picture me forcing one foot in front of the other so I wouldn’t lean in and yell “Are you crazy?!  Think about your audience and their expectations.  Get back to the office and practice out loud!”

No, he will not be fine.  That presentation will be filled with ums, and ahs, and will meander here and there, all to the beat of the tentative drum in his head.  If he’s lucky, his PowerPoint slides will save him from a brain freeze, but odds are he’ll use them as a crutch.

Rehearsing “in your head” is not a rehearsal.  Unless you actually hear your voice saying the words you wrote down on your storyboard out loud (at a volume of 7 out of 10), you are not rehearsing.

I give myself this finger wag all the time.  For example, I worked all weekend on an upcoming presentation and I have yet to say any of the words out loud.  My handout looks great.  My slides are ready for their close-up (even spell-checked and proofread!), but in this particular case, that is insufficient preparation.  There are two big reasons why I need to find time to rehearse.   First, I just found out that eight people are attending the talk from my client’s office to “learn and observe.”  No pressure there.  Second, I want repeat business from this client, so being on top of my game is essential.

Factor in the time to speak out loud to yourself, your pet, or your significant other – it doesn’t matter who – and you stand a better chance of achieving your goal.  And as an added bonus, you will likely lessen the chances of getting asked a curveball question because you have honed your content to its essential messages.

Next up:  Extemporaneous speaking – how to sound prepared and intelligent without the chance to rehearse.

– Barbara

p.s.  If you like what you read in our blog, why not work with us in person at our upcoming SpeakWell Bootcamp on July 28th in Boston.  For more details visit our website:


On the Road Again

I love maps. I love figuring out travel routes and examining the terrain.  I have lived in Massachusetts for 33 years, yet I still continue to pore over New England maps whenever I get on the road.  I can’t relate to the “I have no sense of direction” people who look at me like I have two heads when I tell them to head east on Commonwealth Avenue.  And, for those of us who live in Boston (the mecca for road design that makes no sense…and makes us secretly proud insiders), we know that there are many paths that lead to our destination. As it goes with public speaking.

My client had an important presentation for a thousand people. Naturally, he wanted to be clear and moving, succinct and spellbinding. He had an insightful, intelligent, heartfelt story to tell.  We broke his presentation into three parts. (Remember, 3’s and their subsets are easy to remember). Each part had its own beginning, its path so to speak, that once set upon would be easy to follow and remember.  We developed opening sentences to the sections that would place him squarely on the road.  Easy, right?

Not so much. While we practiced he kept changing his opening lines, which led him deeply into the weeds.  I finally used the map metaphor.  Stop changing the route! Stay on the path we have created, it works and it will get you there. Stop thinking you can meander off into a side road, because inevitably you are going to get lost or take a much more circuitous route to get to your destination.  You will get there, but you will lose your audience in the process.  After a few stops and starts, he understood the power of seeing and staying the course.

Speakers need to map out presentations, to visualize and essentially memorize the route. All successful presenters do this.  One of the jobs of a good coach is to help you map the best route for your presentation.  So, think map metaphor when you design your next presentation.


Next Post: GPS: Where do you stand?

Words Matter

I was leafing through a book focusing on the link between deep breathing and overall health when I came upon a section featuring a Swami who had been practicing yoga and meditation for decades.  He was offering advice on how to sit in meditation to become aware of one’s breath. Here’s the actual sentence:  “Place the left heel at the perineum and the right heel at the pubic bone above the organ of generation.”  Organ of generation?  I’m guessing the writer was looking for a way to avoid potentially vulgar terms, so I’ll give the him a pass. The problem is, speakers do this all the time and rarely does it improve delivery. In fact, it usually fails.

I mentioned this to one of my clients who had run for political office and made stump speeches every day for several months.  He said that many politicians have this problem because they’re afraid to say anything that might offend and therefore dance around topics by using obscure or vague words. 

Don’t let that happen to you.  At SpeakEasy Partners, we help our clients with word choice.  For example,  once they have written out the speech, we suggest that they hand it to a trusted colleague and ask him or her to sift through it for jargon or places where a $1.50 word is used when a 25-cent version would do.  In other words, eliminate your use of splendiferous terminology. 

Mark Twain advised writers to “use the right word, not its second cousin.”  The same advice applies to speakers.  Your words represent who you are.  Do you want to sound pompous or powerful?  Eccentric or eloquent?  The place to start is with word choice.

– Barbara Roche

I Don’t Have Time to Practice

The #1 response I get when I recommend to my clients that they factor in time to practice their speech is “I don’t have time,”  followed by “I know this stuff, I don’t need to practice.”  Let’s tackle the first one today, and for the sake of argument, let’s assume that you truly cannot find time in your calendar to deliver your speech from start to finish at least once.  Then it’s time for Plan B.  Below are three ways you can practice the fundamentals of effective speaking while going through your daily routine:

1.        Running a meeting: Practice speaking in a succinct manner when you introduce the agenda, the purpose of the meeting, and the ideal outcome you will achieve before everyone goes back to their desks.

2.      Ordering from a menu: How often do you hold up the ordering process because you don’t know what you want or have a hard time communicating your order?  Today you will practice improved communication:   scan the menu, think it through in your head, when the waitperson comes to the table, look them in the eye and without any word fillers, tell them what you want. By the way, you can do this at the drive-thru as well. Not one “um” – that’s the goal.

3.       Leaving a voicemail message: This is the best way to critique yourself.  The next time you get someone’s voicemail greeting, leave your message and then press the * key (or whichever key allows playback) and listen to yourself.  How did you do?  What can be improved? Then, erase your first message and try again.  Voila – instant, real world practice.

Now do you see why we emphasize practicing your speech?

– Barbara Roche

A Great Exercise for Your Voice

Great speakers know how to find the “low middle” of their vocal range.  Most of us speak in our high middle when we’re talking in a business meeting, say, and we rarely change octaves when we speak in public.  If anything, our nervousness can cause us to speak at an even higher octave.

Here’s a trick to find your low middle:  While making an audible “m” sound at the lowest point in your vocal range, travel all the way up to your highest point and then go back down.  Think of a vocal roller coaster. Do this several times until you can hear your mid-point.  Then drop your voice two levels below that and speak.  Chances are you sound more confident and commanding at that point in your range and you are also naturally louder at that point as well.

Keep practicing until it becomes natural.

– Barbara

Make room for lots of mistakes

Shift your thinking about how you practice before you go live and you will exponentially improve your outcome.

At the start, most of us (and I am no exception), feel vulnerable when we present for others.  It is unnerving.  “Am I doing a good job?”; “Are they understanding what I am trying to say?”; “On a scale of 1 – 10, just how fabulous am I?!” That inner, uncertain voice can be a real strangler. Anticipating the judgment of others is often a tension-filled and an anxiety producing experience.  What to do?

I say, recognize that your practice needs to be messy. I remind speakers that the time for nerves, anxiety, and worry about the actual presentation day is not now. Now, is the time to concentrate and focus on the actual content, the flow, the physical experience of delivery.  We will deal with the other issues later.  For now, let’s get into a state of inquiry and semi-detachment. Let’s participate in a few stumble-throughs and then engage in a dialogue that distills and clarifies where you are going on your presentation journey and why! Let’s stop thinking that each practice is a mini-demonstration and let it be an opportunity to get deep into our understanding of what we are trying to express.  Let’s make it messy and filled with mistakes. Let’s be open and take risks. Let’s stop worrying about nailing it the first time or over-thinking about what other people think.  Let’s deepen and build the experience of our own words and how we connect to others.  Nothing worth doing comes effortlessly. Let’s stop believing it should and dive into the wreck. I guarantee this process will strengthen and  empower your speaker practice.

Charlotte Dietz