Tuesday, February 17, 2009

7 bite-sized ideas to get you speech-ready

For some speakers, the dangers of a speech lurk in the preparation. They over-prepare for speeches, focus on the writing, or worry about potential pitfalls. In some sense, they may be biting off more than they can chew. Here's an alternative: 7 bite-sized, manageable steps you can take to get ready for your next speech. None of these will overwhelm you, and all of them will help advance your next effort:

  • Breathe. Take 10 to 20 deep breaths a few minutes before you're going to speak. (Step into a handy stairwell or restroom if you don't want to be observed.) It's a physiological way to calm your body so it responds better while you're speaking.
  • Sip. Starting an hour before your talk, hydrate your vocal chords. For preference, choose water rather than caffeinated beverages, and avoid alcohol if you're an after-dinner speaker. Got a cold or sore throat? Try hot water with lemon.
  • Stretch. Make sure you're limber before a speech. Stretch your arms and legs (that stairwell, again) and do some shoulder rolls and neck stretches to keep your body looking and feeling calm.
  • Re-open. You'll never have a higher level of attention than at the start of your speech, so use it. Practice your opener several times, so that you can do it without referring to your notes and make early eye contact with the audience.
  • Annotate. If you're working from a text, take the time to plan and write in stage directions to yourself: "pause here," "gesture toward audience," or just underscoring words you want to emphasize will help you add grace notes to your speech.
  • Center. Find your core, your center of gravity, and the best stance that will hold you steady when you're not moving around the stage. You want to be able to stand in a relaxed stance, without swaying or hanging on to the lectern, to look most authoritative--and to keep attention on your words.
  • Smile. Smiling helps in two ways, relaxing your mind and your body. Bring a funny picture, child's drawing, or photo that only you can see at the lectern to start your speech with a welcoming face.