Friday, June 17, 2011

Pay The Price in Practice

(originally published nov 30, 2010)

It’s been a busy semester. I didn’t carry through with weekly blogs as I intended. I’m sorry about that. My loss as well as yours. There’s one concept I want to hit hard before we part. It’s this:

Practice, Practice, Practice.

Having taught a couple of public speaking courses each semester for five years, it’s been my good fortune to watch nearly 500 students work at learning how to build great presentations and give great presentations. That means I’ve watched about 2,500 presentations. It’s been great! I’ve seen many talented students. Talented or not, every student has improved. That’s been especially rewarding for me, and I know it will pay valued dividends in the future lives of these impressive young people. Watching that many presentations, one thing has become obvious: some students practice, others don’t. If students don’t practice, that doesn’t make them bad people. But, they’re missing a great opportunity.

Practice aloud, standing up.
This is the best advice you can receive if you want to become a person of influence in your world. Success doesn’t come free. You don’t stumble into it. You will have to work at it. When you have built what you think will be a solid presentation of your ideas, you must practice presenting it.

This is how you practice:
Stand up! In front of a mirror, if possible. In a secluded place where you can speak as loudly as you are able without having to worry that someone will hear your initial attempts.
Speak it aloud! It takes a few run-throughs to get accustomed to hearing your own voice. This will also help you judge the timing of the presentation.
Smooth the flow! Repeat the entire presentation often enough that it flows for you. This is like any other skill you try to master. The first few times through, you’ll have awkward pauses, moments when you can’t remember what you wanted to say, goofy moments, etc. But, they’ll smooth out with practice. If you can’t get through the entire presentation without any major stumbles or meltdowns, you haven’t practiced enough.
Capture the meaning! Practice giving emphasis to important ideas. Refine the wording. Use pauses to capture attention. Try out hand movements and facial gestures as you speak. Work at getting the message into the listener, not just getting it out of your mouth. Experiment with volume, pitch, rate. Go over the top. Get crazy. See how it feels to turn yourself completely loose.
Practice to perfection! Of course, perfection is relative. Every effort can be improved upon. But, remember that the big giveaway as to whether you’ve practiced enough is whether the meaning of your presentation comes through. This is how it works: No practice—repeated stumbles, reading from notes, rough or jerky flow, listeners have no clue what the speaker intended. Some practice—flow smoothes out, presenter rushes through just trying to get the message out, listeners get bits and pieces of the message.Fully practiced—Smooth flow of ideas, speaker is comfortable leaving her/his notes, speaker can pause, vary the voice, watch the listeners for nonverbal feedback, etc.

How much practice?
If you practice to perfection once, you’ll know the answer to this question. But, know this: it takes more than one practice aloud and standing up. Five times? At least. Ten times? Depends on the presentation. Twenty times? Not uncommon. Good speakers pay the price in practice!!

Learning Activity
Find a fairly short piece (poem, song lyric, selection from a great speech). Read it until you’re familiar with it. In fact, memorize it.
Now, stand up, speak it aloud, smooth the flow, capture the meaning, and practice to perfection.
If you’ll do this, just once, it’ll take you to a completely new place in your ability to express ideas in public.
Here’s to the new you!

© Frank Richardson, 2010

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