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The Importance of Practice

“There are always three speeches for every one you actually give. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” Dale Carnegie

I couldn’t have said it better. Nor have I thought about it quite like that, but Mr. Carnegie is absolutely right. No matter how long or hard we’ve practiced, we always end up giving a hybrid of the speech we practiced and the speech we gave. All too often, we also rue the speech we wish we had given.

Right now you may be thinking, “Then why practice at all if I’m only going to distort it when I deliver it?” And my answer would be—because you must. I have given countless speeches over the years to all walks of life, to varying professional organizations, and to non-profit entities. The one constant in each of them is the practice hours I put into each one.

Practicing doesn’t mean just reciting the words in your presentation. It involves trying on the clothes you intend to wear. It has you arranging a table or a prop that acts as your podium or projector screen. It involves walking as you talk to discover any tendencies you may have to prefer one side of the room or the other. Perhaps you have a habit of turning your back on the audience to look at the screen, or perhaps you have a tendency to look at the floor as you talk.

Only during practice will you uncover these little speech saboteurs, and this is when you must get rid of them. You should recite and time your entire presentation in its entirety. This is the only way you’ll know if you’re speech goes over your allotted time, and if you practice it, you’ll have ample opportunity to fine-tune the contents of your talk. Perhaps you will end your talking way ahead of schedule—then you will know you need more meat in your message.

Practicing also involves learning how to manipulate machinery and props while you talk. I have witnessed a handful of speakers who grabbed for a small sign they had placed on the table, only to grasp it incorrectly and have it displayed upside down when it was turned towards the audience. Practice also gives you the chance to practice tone, inflection, word repetition, and gestures, all of which must be on target for the sake of your presentation and your credibility as a speaker.

One of the most valuable bits of advice I can give you as a budding professional speaker is never memorize your talk or your presentation. Rote memory has a way of becoming occluded under the glare of the bright lights and an audience full of eager learners. If you have memorized your speech, you will undoubtedly have to stop a couple of times to recall what comes next. Then, if you can’t seem to recall a particular section, you will continue onward while your audience is left behind grappling with your latest statement. You can use cue cards, overhead projected images, Power Point, or a flipchart to help jog your memory on what you would like to say—that is actually what they are for.

Once you’ve been cued, then you talk about what you know best, your service or your product. So take the time to practice and then do it again. Remember, it’s all about perception. Make sure you leave them with a stellar impression of you and your presentation, and your speech, no matter what form it takes, or how many people are listening, will be a resounding success!

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