Article Category: Speaker Habits

Speech Preparation #9: Prepare Now for Your Next Speech

Self-CritiqueThe opening article of the Speech Preparation Series outlined a six-step process for speech preparation.

This article focuses on the sixth step: critiquing your speech so you can learn from your strengths and weaknesses. Thus, a self-critique is really the first step in preparation for your next speech.

Speech Preparation Series

Why Critique Your Presentation Skills?

Great speakers realize that presentation skills are not easily mastered in one or two or ten speeches. Speaking skills are improved incrementally one speech at a time.

To realize these incremental improvements, it is essential to periodically review your skills. Some people prefer to do this review once a week or once a month; I recommend that you review your skills after every speech, especially if you are a novice speaker just dipping your toes into the public speaking pool.

Critiquing Your Own Speech

It only takes a few minutes to review a speech, and the best time to do it is the same day that you delivered it. Your delivery is still fresh in your mind, as is your preparation for the speech.

When critiquing your own speech, you can apply many of the same criteria that you would when critiquing someone else’s speech. You will find an extensive list of these criteria in a previous Six Minutes article about speech analysis.

Those criteria are a great start, but you can also ask yourself many other questions too.

  • Overall, were you satisfied with your final speech? If not, why not?
  • Did you achieve your objective? Was your core message received by the audience?
  • Were you confident during your delivery? Were you more nervous or less nervous than previous speeches?
  • What audience feedback did you receive during or after delivery of the speech? What strengths were mentioned? What weaknesses were revealed?
  • What did you think of your delivery?
  • Did you have any stumbles? Were they caused by nervousness, or was there another cause?
  • How long did you speak? Was this shorter or longer than you had planned? If you were under time, this may be an indication that your speaking rate was a bit fast. If you were over time, this may be an indication that you should have cut more material.
  • Did you try any new techniques, either in the preparation phase or in your delivery? If so, what did you think? What lessons can you extract?

Depending on the context of the speech, a few other questions include:

  • Was your pre-speech audience analysis accurate? If not, what did you learn about this audience that you could apply to the speech to make it better?
  • If you led a Q&A session during the presentation, how did it go? From the types of questions asked, did it seem like your audience “got” the message?
  • If you obtained an audio recording, what did you learn from listening to it? Was your voice clear throughout? Did you have any distracting habits? (e.g. um’s, ah’s, trailing off at the end of sentences)
  • If you obtained a video recording, what did you learn from watching it? How was your posture and eye contact? Were your gestures varied and timed well? Did you have any distracting habits?

And, one final question:

  • If you were going to deliver the same speech to the same audience, what would you do differently?

Remember that the aim of the self-critique is not to beat yourself up over any slips or mistakes you might have made. Instead, the true aim is to celebrate your successes and look ahead to see how you can improve for your next speech.

Tree - Face the Wind

Self-Critique Example — Face the Wind

Overall, I’m very happy with my 2007 contest speech Face the Wind. I won the club, area, and division contests, and presented on the “big stage” at the district conference.

Unfortunately, I didn’t achieve the goal I had set for myself — winning the District 21 Speech Contest. I felt that I could have won, but the field of ten contestants was very strong.

Here’s my self-assessment, aided by the fact that I have an excellent video of my performance!

Speech Self-Critique: Strengths

  • I did my best. I honestly felt that I delivered the best possible speech that my skills allowed at that given time. As I was walking off the stage, I wanted to give someone a high-five because I knew the delivery was my best.
  • Gestures and Staging. I felt my choreography was second to none. I received numerous compliments on this aspect of the speech. This made me quite happy because I had spent a great deal of time working on gestures and staging.
  • I got laughter from the audience in most places where I was aiming for it.
  • Several audience members suggested that I have the skill set to be a full-time motivational speaker.
  • I had lots of fun through the whole process! I received such positive encouragement from so many people. The organizers of the district speech contest treated the contestants like royalty!

Speech Self-Critique: Weaknesses

  • I felt that some body movements were a little rigid at times, particularly during the speech opening. Was this the result of too much preparation (robotic), or not enough preparation to make the movements more fluid?
    • In the future, I should videotape my rehearsal sessions to see if I can pick up on this trait.
  • I think my timing and pauses could have been a little better in my delivery of humor punchlines.
    • In the future, I need to work on writing so I have better punchlines and punch words.
  • In a few instances, when I lowered the volume of my voice, I think I went too quiet. It may not have been loud enough for everyone to hear.
    • In the future, I need to keep my voice strong even during “quiet” lines.
  • Some feedback I received hinted that the core message could have been stronger by eliminating the entire Maximus story, and instead using the time for a stronger (and lengthier) call-to-action. Personally, I thought I needed this story to make a human connection. However, I concede that I’m probably a little too close to the story (i.e. my nephew!) to be entirely objective.
    • In the future, I need to solicit more feedback specifically about the core message and what might be done to strengthen it. Perhaps I need to devote a little more time to speech writing, and less to delivery techniques.

A question for you, my esteemed readers… How could I have improved the speech?

Speech Preparation Series

Next in the Speech Preparation Series

The last article in the Speech Preparation Series examines Toastmasters Speech Contests and the preparation necessary to be successful.

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Comments icon7 Comments

  1. Simon says:

    Great point to critique yourself and I’m constantly amazed at how many people don’t. Actually, I’m not – because in the relief of having finished and not dieing of fright during their presentation they are on such a high they just don’t think.

    One way I’ve encouraged myself to do it is to put it on my checklist of things to do – which obviously covers the things before I go on stage but also includes the things to do afterwards: thank X, speak to the sound person, check my kit etc….

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      I like the idea of a post-presentation checklist. That may help to form the speech self-critique habit.

  2. Jason Black says:

    Two hopefully helpful critiques:
    First, while your gestures were overall really excellent–evocative and well delivered–there were a few that I felt were overdone. Gestures which hit the audience over the head a bit too much, as it were. Two that come to mind: when you went down on your knees in the tree story, that felt over-done and somewhat un-natural. And in the Maximus story when you made the baby-cradling gesture, it felt almost hyperbolic–we get that it’s an emotional story, and I don’t feel that the words actually needed a gesture to underscore them.
    To me, the best gestures have an “organic” feel to them, they seem wholly natural in the context of the words that surround them. But those two gestures struck me as having been added solely to “punch up” your speech, and not because they were natural. Thus they ring false and detract from your overall message and the audience’s perception of it.

    Second, on the speech content itself: As you moved from story to story, I had trouble understanding the connection between them. Part of this was because such a large part of the first story was taken up with talking about yardwork, which was only peripheral to your real message. I’d have spent less (or no) time talking about moving your maple tree and more time talking about the threat posed by the neighbor’s tree. So as the speech moved from yardwork to the neighbor’s tree to miscarriage, my concept of the speech’s theme had to keep shifting from “work” to “risk” to “challenge”. That, too, undermined your message. Taking each story within the speech, paring it to the essentials that focus on your real message, and briefly stating the message at the end of each story would have helped enormously. They say that if you want people to remember anything, you have to say it three times. So with two stories, each one concluding with the message, and an overall speech conclusion that really lays out the message for all to see, you’ve got your three times.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      I appreciate your detailed and specific speech critique. It is very helpful, and also a great example of the type of evaluation I discuss in the Speech Analysis Series.

  3. Richard says:

    I find your columns quite helpful! So I would pass on a couple of thoughts on your performance in Face The Wind.

    I agree with the comments listed and would like to add two more.
    1. Lug the tree – wrap your arms around it and walk like it is heavy.
    2. Add energy to your voice. Make it more dynamic. Increase the volume range, variation and energy.

  4. Leigh says:

    It really was a great speech. Content great. I think it could have been pruned a little to make it snappier.

    Body language was perfect.

    I have just delivered my ‘ice breaker’ so what do I know?!

    What I feel personally is that many speeches lack congruency. What I mean by that is that although they are executed well, they don’t connect with the audience. They are a speech and not a conversation with the audience.

    Anthony Robbins is that master at congruent speaking. Even though he is running through set material it is like he is doing it for the first time and its all off the cuff. You can really see his emotional connection with his words.

    I think if you had attached emotional congruency with the sadness of the bad weather and also with the lost of the babies, it would have been more powerful.

    Check out
    for the master at work. I have no connection to the guy what so ever but I am working on improving my skills based on his talent.

  5. zhou hui says:

    Hi, Andrew:
    I am preparing my third speech-get to the point and searched at web and found you web that is absolutely helpful to me-a new member of TM since Sep. this year. I read all the 1-9 of your speech preparation series (have not done the 10 as you mentioned feedback to your FACE the WIND, I decide to write you before reading the 10).
    I love your face the wind and reviewed it for different learning purposes from step 1 to 9. The first time I viewed it, I expected your two hands and arms would be upper or higher for “the mortgage is tripled” than you said your living space is doubled, same expectation when I reviewed it more times later.
    Thanks to find your web, I am more confident to prepare for the third one and wished I found you earlier, I would do better for the Ice breaker speech and the second one Organize your speech.
    Zhou Hui

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