Have you ever seen a speaker that was so captivating and thrilling that time seemed to disappear? An hour flies by without you checking your phone or thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner. For me, this is often followed by a feeling of deep jealousy and envy wishing that I could be as dynamic and powerful on stage as they were. For many of my clients, however, what accompanies witnessing a flawless performance is a feeling of inferiority and a sense that they could never be as good.
Fortunately, there is no magic pill or secret to what it takes to be an awesome live presenter. The only way to truly “crush it” as a speaker is to get up as much as possible and perform in front of an audience.
In comedy and music, there are open mics that offer budding performers stage time to practice their craft. In most cases, comedians and singers are given 5-15 minutes to try out new material or work on their rapport with a crowd.
As speakers though, it’s much more challenging to find a forum to hone your skills in front of a live crowd. This is a detriment to many starting speakers because they don’t have the opportunity to test their stuff and get instant feedback. With music the more you practice your instrument the better you will get. With public speaking however you can’t gauge the effectiveness of your speaking without the public piece of it. You won’t know if your main points are compelling or effective. You won’t know if you are pacing too much or too little, or if your voice jumps 2 octaves when people are looking at you.
To combat this I always suggest to my clients that they create a “dress rehearsal” in which they dress fancy and invite people to see them deliver their talk. The rehearsal performance is crucial when they’re preparing for a big speech because it provides them a safe forum to experiment and prepare with very little consequences.
Here are 3 things you can do to create your own opportunity to practice your speech in front of a live crowd so that you can learn what you need to work on and what you are doing amazingly well (yes there is a possibility that you are actually a good speaker).
- Find a neutral space like a library conference room, local recreation center meeting room or classroom, or local theatre. You might have access to a room at your church, synagogue, mosque or any club/organization that you belong to. It’s a huge benefit to get a space that is not your home because it adds an air of legitimacy to the experience. It feels more professional and gives you a flavor of what it will be like when you do present in a foreign environment.
By doing away with your “home court” advantage you will also open yourself up to adapting to your space and adjusting your volume and movement accordingly. It can be very challenging to shift your performance style if you’ve been rehearsing at home quietly in front of the mirror (a practice I don’t recommend) to all of a sudden having to increase your volume so that people in the back of the room will be able to hear and see you.
2. Invite people (friends, family, colleagues from work, etc). When we present in front of living breathing humans all sorts of things can change. We can find ourselves more self-conscious and/or nervous. All of sudden there are eyes on us and we become aware that our content has to be interesting. Many of my clients tell me how much they hate when all eyes are on them. As a performer though let me tell you, it’s much worse when you are in front of an audience and their eyes are NOT on you but instead entrenched in their phones or on the wall. When we bring guests to our rehearsal we get instant feedback on which parts of our content hold the audience’s focus and which parts need to more clarification and specificity.
Also, when presenting in front of people you might get nervous and your voice will go higher and your breath support might disappear.
For what it’s worth, I still get anxious before certain speeches or shows and focusing on my breathing can be a huge tool to ground me, and to get my voice rooted and sounding more honest. Having a safe scenario in which you can practice solving these issues is one of the best forms of preparation for live speaking.
3. Finally, I suggest recording the rehearsal. I know that something people often hate more than speaking on stage is speaking on camera. However, taping yourself can be a great way to not only see what areas you want to fix but also to see what worked really well. There have been many times that I recorded a performance and was amazed to watch it later. Sure, my immediate impulse was to be hypercritical of the way I look and sound. However, once I got past that initial shock of seeing myself I was able to glean some positive realizations that were different from what I might have experienced on stage. People laughed at my jokes more than I thought they had, or the point I thought I wasn’t as clear ended up being pretty effective.
Sometimes you might find that you said something that was unexpected that was a gem you could use to create a whole other speech, blog, or video. When watching the recording, look for what you like about yourself as a speaker. What do you feel really worked? Build on that instead of just tearing yourself apart. Seeing were you actually rock is much more helpful than looking for mishaps and flaws. We want to build on what works, what you do naturally and authentically, and what makes you awesome. If you look for negative things you’ll always find them. Look for the positive and you’ll have much more fun!
A lot of people swear by Toastmasters as a great place to test your speeches in front of an audience. If organizations like that work for you then, by all means, do it! However, if they aren’t your cup of tea then creating your own opportunities to practice and perfect your speeches is definitely the way to go. Having the space to test your content in front of people is incredibly informative and will help you grow into the speaker you’ve always dreamed of being. I guarantee you that the flawless speaker that enthralled you didn’t get there by solely practicing in front of the mirror. I’m sure they’ve logged many hours on stages (small and large) and potentially even sucked in the beginning. If you want to eventually be as confident and free as they appear then I strongly recommend get out and speak! Your future speaking self with thank you for it!