Article Category: Speaker Habits

Stop Rehearsing! 3 Critical Things to Do Before Your Speech


AuditoriumWhen scheduled to speak, you may be tempted to review your notes or slides right up to the last minute. Last minute cramming like this is rarely of any value. Instead, this article explains three much more important things you should be doing to prepare.

Cramming For Your Speech to the Last Minute

I once had a colleague who began preparing his talk the night before he spoke. Because of this, he worked late into the night and in the morning on his slides. It was common for him to be rearranging PowerPoint slides minutes before his name was called. When he stood to speak, there was a “deer in the headlights” reaction as he noticed his venue and audience for the first time.

I previously wrote about the speech preparation process — follow that advice and don’t be the deer in the headlights.

But, adequate speech preparation isn’t always enough. Years ago, although my presentation was ready, I would still retreat to a quiet place at the venue and spend the time right up to my speech “mentally preparing.” Last minute cramming was not productive. In fact, it probably made me more nervous that I would otherwise have been. More recently, I have realized that there are three much more important activities to keep you busy from the time you arrive at the venue to the time you speak.

Activity #1 — Study the Venue Logistics

Whenever possible, arrive at the venue while the room is still empty. This is especially important if the venue is new to you. Now is the time to solve any issues that might arise with the physical space. There are many issues to work out depending on the venue and the nature of your talk. For starters, here are a few to consider:

  • Acquaint yourself with the speaking area.
  • Do a audio check if the room warrants it.
  • Plan where you’ll place props, notes, or supplies before, during, and after their use.
  • Determine where the projector, screen, whiteboard, or flip chartwill be relative to you. If your audience cannot see your visual aids, they will not connect with your message.
    • If these items cannot be moved, plan where you need to stand to avoid being an obstruction.
    • If these items can be moved, move them to the optimal locations for visibility from the audience.

Activity #2 — Meet Your Audience

An inexperienced speaker waits until they are introduced for their presentation before beginning to establish rapport with the audience. An experienced speaker, on the other hand, understands that rapport can be built from the moment you arrive at the venue.

  • Mingle with your audience.
  • Don’t let your ego interfere. Acting like a prima donna will damage your credibility with the audience.
  • Ask questions and listen to the answers. You will often be able to pick up nuggets of information that you can integrate into your talk.
  • Be interested and genuine. Not only will your audience like you better, but you will be more positive going into your talk, and your performance will show it.

Activity #3 — Watch, Listen, and Participate in the Event Agenda

I’ve seen speakers who appear intent on making a grand entrance no earlier than their scheduled time. (Occasionally, this cannot be helped due to scheduling…) They are missing a great opportunity to form bonds of common experience with the audience.

  • Listen to other speakers.
    • Does their message overlap with yours? How should you change your speech?
    • Is their message complementary in some way? How can you accentuate this?
  • What themes or trends are present at the event?
  • What humorous things have happened? Can you incorporate humor by referring back to them?
  • What is the mood of the audience in talks preceding yours? If the energy in the room is low, you may need to incorporate elements to pick it up.

Study the venue, meet your audience, and participate in the agenda. These three activities will reduce your nervousness and improve your performance much more than any last-minute cramming.

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