Wednesday, January 16, 2013

From the vault: 6 stealth ways to find time to practice your public speaking

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. In fact, if you do practice, you'll gain distinct advantages as a public speaker.

For most of the speakers I coach, however, practice falls by the wayside more often than not. It's easy to put off and tough to fit in. 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 a 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 a presentation, don't wait till the last minute to schedule a rehearsal time. Instead, put in a practice hour every 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 with the opening, spend one hour brainstorming a strong start. In the next session, figure out your ending. In another, work on getting from point A 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 your 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, but 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 yourself down. Just don't make this your only practice time!
This post updates one "from the vault" that was originally published in 2011If you found this post useful, please subscribe or make a one-time donation to help support the thousands of hours that go into researching and curating this content for you.