Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Do you overprepare for speeches?

A woman in one of my recent communications workshops asked, "What do you recommend for me? My problem is that I overprepare for my talks." Her choice of words labeled it a problem (perhaps because others had said that to her), but when I asked why she thinks she does that, she said, "I have to. I'm a perfectionist."

I've heard many women (and, as I think of it, few men) say they overprepare before speeches. My take: For many speakers, it's a form of performance anxiety, stemming from a real or imagined challenger, the sense that they're not really qualified to speak as an authority, or other fears. While I'm all about preparation as the key to giving an eloquent speech, when preparation adds to the pressure you feel, it's time to revise your pre-speaking plans. Here are some tactics to try:

- Remember that most speeches don't succeed due to nuances of content. While you're checking and re-checking your facts ahead of time, remember that your appearance and tone will have a greater impact on the audience than your words. Put another way: You can have the best content ever, but if your delivery or appearance fail to put it over, content won't matter to the audience.

- Redefine what your speech can accomplish. Few speakers are given enough time to display every fact they know--so why feel compelled to memorize them all? Use your remarks to tell your audience the focus and scope: "There are so many issues we could consider, but today I'm going to take a close look at..." When questioners raise other issues, you can acknowledge them--but remind them of today's focus.

- Stop overpreparing to meet your own mark: If it's for you, the perfectionist, keep in mind that you can't win that contest--in a sense, declaring your perfectionism means you'll never be good enough in your own eyes. Try this trick: Deliver your next speech without the extra preparation, and see whether anyone notices, besides yourself. If you do fine without it, why keep doing it?

- Imagine your worst enemy in the audience: If you overprepare because someone might rise to challenge you, use your preparation time to imagine the issues and develop some calm, thoughtful answers. I train speakers to think of the questions they want, the questions they expect and the questions they fear--and the answers for each.

- Put stress relief into your speech preparation: Taking care of the speaker is the speaker's job, so make sure you are well fed, rested and hydrated before you speak. Don't drink stimulants or beverages that will dry out your throat, like caffeine or alcohol. Step into the restroom, hallway or a nearby stairwell to stretch your arms and legs and do some deep breathing beforehand.
If you're an overprepared speaker, consider this: The time you spend going over and over your content could be spent learning new speaker skills, like handling tough questions extemporaneously, gesturing, speaking without slides or text, and more. Leave us a comment to explain why you overprepare, if you do, and what you've done to overcome it.