I think it pays to remember the Great Irony of Public Speaking: It's the speakers who practice who look as if they are speaking without effort, and those who wing it risk looking unprepared and inartful. Here are 5 tips from frequent speakers who've conquered big stages, making that leap look easy, from our Talk About the Talk series:
- Freeze that script early, then don't sweat the small omissions: "I froze [my script] on the Tuesday, before giving it on the Thursday...I wasn’t word perfect. I changed the first line and I missed out some of the jokes," says Dr. Lucy Rogers, who spoke at space debris at InspireFest. "However, when I was on stage, I relaxed. The audience were friendly, laughed at my jokes, and I felt encouraged by them. Even the “casual saunter” back to the lectern to refer to my notes wasn’t as embarrassing as I thought it would be. Note to self: freeze the speech longer in advance to give yourself chance to learn it."
- Let go: Speaker coach Caroline Goyder, who took the stage at TEDxBrixton, says, "If you’ve done the work climbing the mountain, when you get to the top, relax, enjoy the view. Make the day of the talk easy, clear. Do what you need to do to feel at your most relaxed so you can walk out on stage and make relaxed easy conversation with the audience."
- Make adjustments to avoid sounding rehearsed. Mostly, slow down: "Moving beyond memorization was the most significant challenge," says Resa Lewiss, MD, a TEDMED speaker. "The people who know me best could tell that I wasn’t me when I would practice for them. I sounded memorized and I struggled with moving beyond this--with not sounding rehearsed." I worked with Lewiss backstage at TEDMED, and she says "the work we did together less than 24 hours before my go live was transformative. You offered content to cut, pace to slow and pointed directions for my walk. That evening, I practiced more with a few TEDMED attendee friends. They made me slow down e-v-e-n more than was comfortable for me. When I was at my slowest in speed, they said it was the best take I had done. You had told me – s-l-o-w down."
- Make sure your practice mimics reality: Lisa Lamkins, a nonprofit healthcare executive who spoke at the Align health quality summit, relied on her practice. "That served me well when I froze and it just came out of my memory banks to rescue me." Her pro tip: "Give a few practice speeches in front of real live people – your coworkers, your kids, your yoga group, whatever. Getting a feel for audience reactions might have helped me with timing and with conjuring up the vision of a friendly face when I couldn’t see the audience."
- Enjoy the story you're telling: Margot Bolon, a health communicator who gave a maid of honor's speech at her friend's wedding, says that having fun with her speech about the bride and groom helped her when her microphone died: "Luckily, it was at a moment that only built up the drama—before I got to the part about the third date," says Bolon, who hammed it up while waiting for a working mic. "By the time the mike cut out, I was so enjoying my delivery that I didn’t let it faze me. I really delighted in describing a small, illustrative slice of my best friend’s relationship."