Thursday, February 5, 2015

The commute communicator: Practicing speeches in your car

"I'm still practicing my speech on my way to the office! Okay, not every day, but many days...It's hard to break habits."

So wrote one of my speaker coaching clients after having given a successful talk. He's one of many speakers I coach who don't have much time to practice, thanks to their busy schedules. Yet I know that practice may be the single most important determinant in whether their speeches are a success. That's when I point them to their cars.

The car-as-practice-cubicle is one of my favorite stealth ways to practice your public speaking. These days, I usually recommend you use this tactic once your script is frozen or done. All you have to do is make an audio recording on your smartphone (or, if you lack a smartphone, on an MP3 recorder) of yourself giving the very best reading you can from the script. Feel free to plug it into your dashboard's audio system.

For this recording, you want to capture every word as written. Then, on your commute, all you have to do is play it once and listen, then spend the rest of the time trying to repeat it from memory. That gives you at least two trips on a daily commute in which to practice, more if you travel in your car frequently. And you can replay the recording as much as you want.

Practicing in your car is useful if you're a speaker who is:
  • An introvert. The commute time alone in your car couldn't be more private, which will help keep your energy higher. Other drivers will assume you're singing along to something.
  • Trying to memorize a script so you can deliver the speech without notes: For talks in the style of TED, or for situations where notes are impractical or just forbidden, you need to memorize. I'm not a big fan of rote memorization, in the style of kids reciting long poems in school ("The boy stood on the burning deck..."). Instead, I advise speakers to memorize the structure, and as much of the content as possible, letting any lines that drop to stay where they're dropped. But listening and repeating your content audibly will do better than most tactics at helping you remember what you wrote in your script.
  • Pressed for time and loaded with interruptions: Carving an hour or two a day to practice in your office may be impossible, with calls and people at your door every few minutes. Or your office may lack the privacy you need. The car in these cases is your public-speaking friend.
Practicing out loud has many additional benefits. You'll find out right away whether that script actually works when the words are being vocalized, and can change anything you trip over verbally. You'll get a sense of your speed and cadence in a way no amount of silent reading can do. And you can try out different types of delivery and emphasis until you hit your stride.

Recently, I coached a cadre of 16 speakers, all of whom were to give five-minute talks without scripts. I had people commuting and practicing in cars from Maine to Oregon and many states in between. "I'm getting in my car to drive two hours to a meeting across the state, so I'll practice on the trip," was a typical comment when we'd check in on Skype. You'll find yourself reaching natural progress points when you practice daily in this way, as in that drive when you don't need the recording to say the entire piece.

Despite efforts to encourage car pools and public transportation, most Americans drive on their commutes, and most drive alone, which is why I can recommend this practice tactic. But if your commute doesn't include solo time in a car, you can still get in some practice. Just listen to the recording as you run, walk, or take public transportation, then find a quiet time or place to practice out loud when you reach your destination. Or do it while you exercise: I have just as many clients who take an afternoon walk or run with their speech recording in their earbuds. Take "commute" broadly, and see what happens!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Sameer Vasta)

Come to my pre-conference workshop at the Spring Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference in Cambridge, UK, this April. What goes into a TED-quality talk will help speakers, speechwriters and conference organizers understand how to craft and deliver a talk in the style of TED, whether you're getting ready for a TEDx conference or just a presentation in this popular style. Go to this link  for more details on what's included, as well as a significant discount for readers of The Eloquent Woman. The workshop is on 15 April, and the conference is 16-17 April. Please join me!