When I started out in Toastmasters, I did not like to practise a speech. I liked the feeling of being natural, of allowing my mind to find the right words at the spur of the moment. I thought that practise would make my speaking stilted and artificial. Well I was wrong? Since my body was not accustomed to speaking, I managed to wing my way through speeches but the impact was missing. I was hoping that I would find the right words at the right time, but the words that came through were not strong enough. The structure of the speech was wobbly as I used to forget important points.
So I talked to other Toastmasters about what they did?
This is what I gathered from my discussions.
Public speaking is like learning to drive a car. You don’t start out from the womb as a driver. You learn the skills through practice. When you do something over and over again, your brain and body create connections. Neural pathways. These neural pathways expand with practice. So what starts out a small by lane within public speaking expands into a 6 lane highway.
So when you first start out in public speaking it feels onerous and difficult. You cannot understand why the message which is in your head is not getting transferred to the audience. You wonder why it is so difficult. You watch experienced speakers and wonder when you can become like them. You watch speakers and wonder if they have an inborn talent for public speaking which you don’t have. At least that was the case for me, when I watched experienced speakers.
I asked experienced successful speakers about the time they spent honing their craft the answer can surprise me. Even experienced speakers spend hours getting their presentation right. Every speaker practises in a different way. Some speakers write their whole speech word for word and practise it. While some speakers just keep an outline in their mind and practise delivering their speech. Each apprentice speaker needs to find what works for them. However the main thing is the practice. The constant practise of the speech and maybe even recording it. Then playing it back to see how you sound. Do you sound over-eager? Do you sound aggressive? Is the message clear? Is there something superfluous in the speech? Practise and hone the speech. This helps to develop the neural pathways.
So when you actually deliver the speech, your mind automatically brings it to the forefront. The nerves vanish because your mind and body are accustomed to the speech. It feels natural. The natural corollary to this is the more speeches you give, the more confident you become. It is a spiral. An upward spiral. Before you know it, you will be confident enough to even speak on a topic which is completely new. A topic which you haven’t prepared.
After speaking to experienced Toastmasters, I too started to practise the speech prior to delivering it. I did around three rounds of practise. I found that this was very helpful. I don’t write my speeches. I just outline my speech. I have a rough idea of the message I want to deliver, the opening that I want to use, the key points and the ending. I found this improved my speeches. I then tried to practise the speech 10 times, but it felt too much. So I am now at a happy medium of around 6 rounds of speech before the actual delivery. I know of experienced speakers who practise their speech at least 40 times before actual delivery. There are times when, I don’t so much as practise the speech out loud but run through the speech in my mind. I allow the speech to settle in my mind by thinking about it constantly. But I do notice that the mental rehearsal is not the same as actual practise. Actual practise is much, much better.
In summary – there is no substitute to ‘Stage time- Stage time – Stage time’ within public speaking. There is also no substitute to ‘practise – practise – practise’ prior to speeches. However find your own medium of the number of times you need to practise.
The best place to practice is to join Toastmasters. The supportive atmosphere will help you to develop your speaking skills. You will also meet some great people and make friends for life.
ACB, CL – Leeds City Toastmasters