Thursday, March 23, 2017

Why speaker coaches think you should spend more time preparing

Any speaker coach worth her salt will tell you that the one thing her speakers don't do enough of is practice. It's not at all unusual for me to suggest a two- to-three month horizon to prep for a major talk, only to have the speaker exclaim, "But I've never spent more than two days getting ready!"

If I had a nickel for every time a client said that, I could quit coaching and live quite comfortably.

But that's not enough of a reason for you, is it? You might, then, want to know some of the many reasons coaches urge practice before you dismiss it out of hand. First and foremost, practice gives you room to make mistakes and correct them, without an audience present. I like to say, "If you're going to screw up, wouldn't you rather do that privately with me than in front of the audience?"

More than that, practice lets you take something from good to great, from tentative to polished. You can find out where you stumble and stutter, and come up with workarounds. You can learn whether that move you want to make across the stage works in real life. You will find out which parts of your script or slides just don't stick in your memory bank, and adjust them. You can try out a gesture, how you will handle a prop, volume, vocalizing, and every other aspect of delivery--not just once, but several ways, so you can choose from the most successful options for you. And you'll go into the talk knowing why you chose *not* to do certain things, its own form of comfort. You'll get used to the sound of your own voice, and how it feels to give the talk out loud, as opposed to just silently narrating your slides as you review them; that kinetic memory will build as you practice, giving you that much more confidence.

Practice also affords you the time and space to learn your talk inside out, so you are less flummoxed by a last-minute or unforeseen interruption or snafu. It means that, when you panic at the sight of the lights and the crowd, what you wanted to say will come out of your mouth, anyway, and get you started. Practice gives you the chance to decide that you don't need all those slides, anyway, before the audience's eyes start to glaze over, and the chance to practice without the slides, without having to speed up. And it's great insurance against the bane of public speakers: That moment when you come off the stage and realize you forgot to include your main point.

When considering your practice time, it helps to remember the great irony of public speaking. It's the speakers who look most natural, conversational, genuine, and spontaneously smooth who have practiced the most. Everyone else just looks like they haven't practiced. Audiences appreciate the difference.

For me, the proof lies in what I hear after coaching clients, who love to call me to report, "I did all the preparation you told me to do, and it worked!" Yes, indeed. How can you reform your speaking practice?

(Creative Commons licensed photo by TEDxBrussels)

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