Thursday, December 1, 2011

From the vault: 6 stealth ways to find time to practice #publicspeaking

(Editor's note: One of our all-time most popular posts, this topic gets at the heart of any would-be eloquent speaker. Without time to practice, your improvement will be slowed or stalled. Fortunately, you can sneak it in. This time around, I've added a bonus sixth option for truly last-minute practice...)

When you first start working on your public speaking skills, the idea of finding time to practice seems almost impossible. At the same time, I can tell you that improvement just won't happen unless you do practice-- and practice regularly, focusing on each thing you need to improve, as well as on your next presentation.

How do you make practice a priority, and fit it into your busy schedule? Try these 6 stealth ways to find the time for your speaking practice:
  1. Do it in the commercial breaks: When I started learning guitar, the instructor suggested that I practice only 5 to 7 minutes at a time, to keep my fingers from getting too sore and discouraging me. "I don't normally recommend watching TV," he said, "but it's easy to work during commercial breaks with the sound muted, then stop when the program starts again." The same can work for you: choose something short to practice -- like your opening line, your closing lines, or short anecdote -- then be ready with that mute button. You get about 10 minutes of practice each half-hour this way.
  2. Schedule an hour a week: If you want to do your practicing in the office, put it on your schedule. Start with an hour a week to practice basic skills on a regular basis. Before presentation, don't wait till the last minute to schedule a rehearsal time; instead, put in our day on your schedule for the two weeks prior.
  3. Break it down to focus on one part of a thorny issue: If you find yourself stumbling over a particular issue in your delivery, break it into manageable parts, and focus on just one of them at a time. That way, each small area of focus will fit into a shorter, easier-to-schedule practice time. For example, if you're having trouble delivering an anecdote in an efficient way, then spend one hour brainstorming a tight beginning. In the next session, figure out your ending. In another, work on getting from point aA to point B in an entertaining fashion
  4. Use your drive time: Second only to video practice is audio practice, something you can easily use in your car, on a subway train, or on yoor walk home. Spend part of your in-office practice recording yourself delivering a presentation all the way through, perhaps more than once. You may think of this as wince-able drive-time listening, issued in damages feedback: after listening to yourself several times, you'll come away with a sense of what you need to change, what takes too long to say, where you need to slow down, and much more.
  5. Use that hotel room: The time-honored practice zone for traveling speakers everywhere, hotel rooms have a lot going for them--you're hidden from view, have access to a mirror, and often, plenty of time to kill. If you find yourself with waiting time, use your hotel room as a private practice zone--even if you're not doing a presentation this trip. It's a great way to work in practice time.
  6. Take the last 10 minutes:  Ten minutes before your actual talk or presentation, duck into a stairwell or nearby restroom for a few minutes' worth of nailing your beginning, plus some deep breathing to calm you down. Just don't make this your only practice time!
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