Part 1 - Delivery
Wherever your speech originated, you are faced with an unavoidable necessity: delivering it.
In today’s age of specialization, more and more speakers are relying on professional speechwriters to create effective materials, especially when there is a need for accompanying visual aids (such as slides, charts, exhibits). “Canned” speeches are favored by many corporations as time-savers for their busy managers and executives.
After considerable debate, I’ve decided to open this book at a point where some authors might consider to be “the end.” The first section is a guide to effective speaking skills. I have relegated my section on speech writing (“Message Design”) to the last spot in the book, simply because many spokespersons will never face the necessity of writing a full-blown, start-from-scratch speech.
The communication skills I will discuss have universal application to all roles assumed by contemporary spokespersons: formal speeches, off-the-cuff remarks, press conferences, debates, radio, and television appearances alike.
Even the most experienced speaker needs to practice and rehearse before each presentation. The questions are: how much rehearsal time is enough, and what is the best way to practice?
Every speaker is unique. One may grasp new material in two or three dry runs; another may require twelve, or even fifteen. My experience indicates that most nonprofessionals perform best after a minimum of six complete rehearsals … that’s six times through the entire speech. Even charismatic individuals, those who seem to possess a special gift for public speaking, rehearse their presentations several times before facing their audiences.
Beginning speakers and those who experience a high degree of anxiety about public speaking should spend more time practicing. And the more critical the speaking engagement, the more rehearsal time is recommended. Don’t interpret this to mean that less “important” speeches require little practice. A complacent attitude toward a speaking situation is easily read by even an average audience. Every speaking engagement is important, if for no other reason than the fact that you are spending the audience’s time. Spend that time wisely. And remember: you are being appraised as an individual, and as a spokesperson – a representative of your company.
Practice! Practice until you feel confident that, should the ink suddenly evaporate from your notes, you could carry on. Practice until you could highlight the main points and present a coherent message – even without notes. If you are uncertain whether you have rehearsed sufficiently – do it again. Better once too many than once too few.
If your rehearsal time is limited, plan to concentrate on the speech’s opening and closing. It is imperative that you begin and end as strongly as possible (see Part V). If you absolutely must wing a portion of the presentation, do so in the middle.
How To Rehearse
Attempt to simulate the conditions you expect for the actual presentation. Rehearse, for instance, with any visual aids you may be planning to use (see Chapter 8). Use a podium or lectern, if appropriate. Stand up while you rehearse.
Keep a pencil handy to aid in making last-minute changes or margin notes.
Try to simulate expected lighting conditions as well. If your speech will be videotaped or televised, then plan on dealing with the heat and glare caused by artificial lighting. If you will be using slides, get accustomed to speaking in a dimly lighted room.
Time your speech during every rehearsal. This way you will know almost exactly how long your material is, and you can eliminate distracting glances at your watch to see how much remaining time you have. Do not take your watch off and place it on the podium when delivering the speech; it shouldn’t be necessary – and it is distracting to you and the audience. The subject of time awareness will be explored further in Part IV.
Listed below in preferred order are methods of rehearsing your speech:
How Not To Rehearse
Never try to rehearse while sitting at your desk or on your sofa mumbling the speech as you read through it. Not only is this an ineffective method of rehearsal, it may do more harm than good – you’re practicing reading, not speaking.
Experiment and Modify
The time to experiment is during rehearsal. Try different styles and approaches that may be lurking in the back of your head. Be more assertive; be less assertive. Speak more rapidly or slowly. Try different techniques. If you’re pleased with the result, then use it when you deliver the speech for real. If you are not pleased, stay with what you’ve got – but don’t go on wondering whether an idea you had may have helped your speech. Try it on and find out.
Don’t hesitate to modify your material as you practice. If you constantly stumble on a particular word or phrase, change it, no matter how clever it may be. When you play back your rehearsal recordings, listen for passages that simply don’t sound right. Keep in mind that your speech is going to be heard, not read. It must be prepared, practiced, and delivered with the listener in mind.
Do not conduct a full-blown rehearsal on the day of the actual presentation. Late rehearsals will only wear you down; they are especially taxing to your voice. It is a good idea to review your notes. Make certain they are in the proper order. Be sure to review both your opening and your closing again. But basically, presentation day is a time to relax.
Note: Try not to eat a large meal immediately before you speak. This includes rehearsals. A full stomach may tend to slow you down, to create a sluggish feeling. It will certainly have a negative effect on the proper breathing techniques discussed in subsequent chapters. So eat lightly, just as you would before any physically demanding activity, such as jogging or tennis.