Preparation and Practice for Public Speaking

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practice-615644_1280.jpgLast time I wrote about different ways of presenting:
1. A speech
2. An interview
3. A conversation
4. A reading
5. Show and tell
6. Acting it out

The most important part for any of these methods is preparation, practice, and personalization.

Prepare what you are going to say, how you'll answer questions, the section of your book you'll be reading, what you'll show, what images and/or text you'll use on a PowerPoint, what scenes you'll act out. Whatever you plan to use, preparation is essential.

Here's how I do it:

First, I either write an outline of what I want to talk about or create a PowerPoint which is affectively an outline. This helps me organize my talk/interview/conversation in a logical order. My outline or PP are not full sentences. Instead sections look like this:
DIALOGUE TIPS
• ATTRIBUTIONS - said, asked
• TAG LINES - She gulped her lemonade.
• NO SPEECHES
Or like this:
WHY DO YOU WRITE FOR CHILDREN?
• Age I was first hooked on books
• Limited pov
These are reminders of what I want to say. Not word for word text to read aloud.

However, if I have a quote by someone I want to share, that is written out completely in my notes. E.g. "Use adverbs as if they were rationed." -Juliet Gardiner. If I'm reading from my book, I might make enlarged copies of the pages (or retype them) so they are easier to read aloud.

Make sure your outline includes personal details. Share when/how you learned something, or why you have such and such opinion. People want to get to know you. Why you do something is interesting. What motivated you to write this particular story is interesting. People like what they perceive as secrets--those things that someone reading your book and/or bio won't know. Let them in on some secrets.

Second, I play with my outline until I'm happy with it. If I'm doing a PowerPoint, I build it and add images, etc.

Third, I practice out loud. This is where I discover:
• Things I've left out or should leave out
• Awkward phrasing
• Where I need to pause or hold up a prop
• A better ordering of the subtopics
• Perhaps a better story to tell to illustrate my point
• An approximate "runtime"
During this stage I may make reminders to myself, such as smile, or pass out a handout. Note: even adults can't listen while papers are being passed around, so don't talk during this time. Call them back to attention when ready. During my out loud practice I may realize I'm trying to cover too much for my allotted time. Rarely do I find I have too little.

I make my changes and go over it again. This time I make sure I'm not speaking too fast. And I practice again. And again until I'm not making changes but just rehearsing. It's not memorizing per se, but it's definitely familiarizing. And it means I won't be reading directly from my notes, but glancing down at them or looking at what I've chosen to include on the PowerPoint slide.

If I get the chance, I practice with a small audience. This person (or several people) can point out where he wants to know more, where she was confused, where he thought something was too basic, etc. Even if you receive no feedback from your audience, you'll hear problems. If something was supposed to be funny, did your audience laugh or grin? If not, the humor is not working. Watch for expressions of boredom.

Practicing for an Interview

But how does this fit with an interview? If you ask, an interviewer can give you the questions ahead of time, or at least you'll know what topics will be covered. Prepare answers to the exact or possible questions, such as "What are your favorite books?" or "What's the best part of writing?." Practice those answers until they flow off of your tongue. On the day of, if the interviewer asks a question that stumps you, use some stalling techniques to let yourself come up with an answer. E.g. "That's a good question." "I've never thought about that." Or even "No one has ever asked that before." If you can come up with an answer, well and good, give it. If not, there's no shame in saying something like, "I really don't have an answer for that."

Practicing for Acting it Out

If you are using the "act it out" method, how are you choosing volunteers? A show of hands? The teacher selecting? Award for answering a question first? If you plan ahead, you'll be more comfortable. Will you need/want props for "act it out?" Gather them and put in a handy container. Will you lay them all on a table ahead of time or will you be pulling them you're your container as you go? The latter is often more affective. Write out your instructions ahead of time and practice those as well.

Microphone Handling

Will you be using a mic? If so, practice with a real one if you can. Schools, churches, and other organizations may let you try one. Here are a few basic microphone rules:
• Don't tap a microphone to see if it is on. They usually have a light. Or you can blow across it.
• Speak into the microphone to test it.
• Hold the microphone near your mouth.
• Don't be afraid of the microphone. If the sound is too loud in the room, whoever is controlling the speakers should turn it down versus you pulling the microphone away.
• If you get feedback, make sure you aren't standing in front of the speakers.
• If you get popping, put the microphone below your mouth.
• Don't freak out at the sound of your voice--it only sounds odd to you.
If you can't practice with a real mic, at least hold something that is a similar size to your mouth when practicing. And when you arrive early, test the real mic at your venue.

Making Mistakes

Okay, I've prepared and practiced, but during the actual presentation I'm afraid I'll make mistakes. Of course you will. We all do. Correct the mispronounced word and go on. Don't anguish about it. If you leave something out, you can always say something like, "Oh, and I meant to mention earlier . . ." or "One last thought on the topic of . . .". If you get lost, pause and say, "I'm going to check my notes and make sure I haven't left something out." If you get sidetracked, you can even say "where were we?" and someone will probably answer.

Remember, the audience doesn't expect you to be perfect. What they expect is to be entertained or learn something. People like being in the know and when you tell something personal, they'll enjoy it. Be who you are, be prepared, and practice, and I'm betting it will go well.


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