Practicing Your Speech
Practicing a speech is essential, and practice sessions can be more or less useful depending on how you approach them. There are three primary phases to the practice process. In the first phase, you practice as you’re working through your ideas and drafting your outline. In the second, you practice for someone and get feedback. In the third, you put the finishing touches on the speech.
Start practicing your speech early, as you are working through your ideas, by reading sections aloud as you draft them into your working outline. This will help ensure your speech is fluent and sounds good for the audience. Start to envision the audience while you practice and continue to think about them throughout the practicing process. This will help minimize anxiety when you actually have them sitting in front of you. Once you have completed your research and finished a draft of your outline, you will have already practiced your speech several times as you were putting it together. Now, you can get feedback on the speech as a whole.
You begin to solicit feedback from a trusted source in the second phase of practicing your speech. This is the most important phase of practicing, and the one that most speakers do not complete. Beginning speakers may be nervous to practice in front of someone, which is to be expected. But review the strategies for managing anxiety discussed earlier in this chapter and try to face that anxiety. After all, you will have to face a full audience when you deliver the speech, so getting used to speaking in front of someone can only help you at this point. Choose someone who will give you constructive feedback on your speech, not just unconditional praise or criticism. Before you practice for them, explain the assignment or purpose of the speech. When practicing for a classroom speech, you may even want to give the person the assignment guidelines or a feedback sheet that has some key things for them to look for. Ask them for feedback on content and delivery. Almost anyone is good at evaluating delivery, but it’s more difficult to evaluate content. And, in most cases, the content of your speech will be account for more of your grade or what you will be evaluated on for work than the delivery. Also begin to time your speech at this point, so you can determine if it meets any time limits that you have.
In addition to practicing for a trusted source for feedback, you may want to audio or video record your speech. This can be useful because it provides an objective record that you can then compare with the feedback you got from your friend and to your own evaluation of your speech. The most important part of this phase is incorporating the feedback you receive into your speech. If you practice for someone, get feedback, and then don’t do anything with the feedback, then you have wasted your time and their time. Use the feedback to assess whether or not you met your speaking goals. Was your thesis supported? Was your specific purpose met? Did your speech conform to any time limits that were set? Based on your answers to these questions, you may need to make some changes to your content or delivery, so do not put this part of practicing off to the last minute. Once the content has been revised as needed, draft your speaking outline and move on to the next phase of practice.
During the third and final phase of practice, you are putting the finishing touches on your speech. You should be familiar with the content based on your early practice sessions. You have also gotten feedback and incorporated that feedback into the speech. Your practice sessions at this point should precreate, as much as possible, the conditions in which you will be giving your speech. You should have your speaking outline completed so you can practice with it. It’s important to be familiar with the content on your note cards or speaking outline so you will not need to rely on it so much during the actual delivery. You may also want to practice in the type of clothing you will be wearing on speech day. This can be useful if you are wearing something you don’t typically wear—a suit for example—so you can see how it might affect your posture, gestures, and overall comfort level. If possible, at least one practice session in the place you will be giving the speech can be very helpful, especially if it’s a room you are not familiar with. Make sure you’re practicing with any visual aids or technology you will use so you can be familiar with it and it doesn’t affect your speech fluency. Continue to time each practice round. If you are too short or too long, you will need to go back and adjust your content some more. Always adjust your content to fit the time limit; do not try to adjust your delivery. Trying to speed talk or stretch things out to make a speech faster or longer is a mistake that will ultimately hurt your delivery, which will hurt your credibility. The overall purpose of this phase of practicing is to minimize surprises that might throw you off on speech day.
Some “Dos” and “Don’ts” for Effective Speech Practice Sessions
- Do start practicing sections of your speech early, as you draft your outline.
- Do practice for someone for feedback.
- Do time yourself once a draft of the speech is completed and adjust the speech as needed to conform to time limits.
- Do deliver the speech the way you want it to be when you deliver it for your audience (use the rate, volume, vocal variety, pauses, and emphasis you plan to use on speech day).
- Don’t only practice in front of a mirror (practicing once in front of a mirror can help you gauge your facial expressions and other aspects of delivery, but that shouldn’t be the only way you practice).
- Don’t only practice in your head (we have a tendency to go too fast when we practice in our head, and you need to get practice saying the words of your speech to help lessen fluency hiccups).
- Don’t practice too much. It’s best to practice a few times in the days leading up to the speech, making sure to leave several hours between practice sessions. Practicing too much can lead you to become bored with your content, which could lead to delivery that sounds like a recitation.
- The four methods of delivering a speech are impromptu, manuscript, memorized, and extemporaneous delivery.
- Impromptu delivery evokes higher levels of speaking anxiety because a speaker has little to no time to prepare the speech; however, this method can increase public speaking skills for people who enjoy thinking on their feet.
- Manuscript delivery entails speaking from a manuscript that contains a word-for-word transcript of your speech. This delivery method can be good for speeches that contain complex information that will be published or quoted but can be challenging because speakers may read their speech, which lessens engagement with the audience.
- Memorized delivery entails speaking from memory. Speakers with a reliable memory will be able to include specific information and engage the audience freely. This method is the most time-consuming delivery option and may come across as a recitation instead of an engaging speech.
- Extemporaneous delivery entails memorizing the general structure of a speech, not every word, and then delivering the speech from a keyword outline. Having the keyword outline allows a speaker to include specific information and references while remaining adaptable to the occasion and audience since every word isn’t planned out.
- Practicing your speech should occur in three phases. First, practice as you are drafting the outline to help you process through your speech ideas. Second, practice for someone and get feedback and record your speech for self-evaluation. Use this feedback to make appropriate changes to your speech. Third, put the finishing touches on the speech: make needed adjustments to the content to meet time limits, become familiar with your speaking outline, and precreate the conditions of speech day for your final few practice sessions.
- Which delivery methods have you used before? Which did you like the best and why? Which delivery method would you most prefer a speaker to use if you were an audience member and why?
- Have you ever had any “surprises” come up during a speech that you could have prevented with more effective practice sessions? If so, explain. If not, list some surprises that good practice sessions could help prevent.
- Using the suggestions in the chapter, make a timeline for practicing your next speech. Include specific dates and make a list of things you plan to do during each of the three phases of practice.