How to Prepare for a Speech (Part 2)

Preparation is one of the most important elements in a successful presentation, and also the best way to reduce any nerves and develop confidence as a novice speaker. My aim with the speech preparation series is to deconstruct the entire process, which begins by defining the audience, and concludes with last minute guidelines for the day of the speech itself.

Part 1 in this 2 part series examined the initial preparation phase – creating an outline, deciding on good content, adding vocal variety and putting it all together to produce a well structured speech. Catchup on part 1 here.

In this article you’ll continue refining the initial speech, learn how to master visual communication, and get some last minutes tips to help in the moments before delivery. Let’s continue with step 8!

8) Master Visual Communication

When highlighting the parts of your speech suitable for vocal variety you should also consider opportunities to showcase your visual communication including:

  1. Eye contact
  2. Gestures

In terms of communicating a message, after your voice, your eyes are the most powerful tool. When you speak, your eyes function as a control device. Simply by looking at people, you have an influence on their attentiveness and concentration. You have the opportunity to make your presentation direct, personal, and conversational.

You can achieve this by following the aptly titled ‘Making a Friend’ technique…

  1. Observe the selection of people scattered throughout the room
  2. Look for those who are responding. The best people are the ones smiling, nodding or just “getting it”. Give each section of the room equal time and energy
  3. Focus initially on one person, talking to him or her personally. Treat it like a one-on-one conversation, where you would tend to stand closer to people you care about
  4. Hold the person’s eyes long enough to establish a bond – perhaps three to five seconds, or the time required to say a sentence or share one thought
  5. Then shift your gaze to another person. And repeat…

Prepare for a Speech

A gesture is defined as a movement of the hand, arm, body, head, or face that is expressive of an idea, opinion, or emotion. When delivering a speech your body language should look natural and be consistent with the meaning of what’s being said.

For example there are many ways of using your arms, hands and facial expressions to highlight a core message. By being expressive with gestures your voice will come alive and the speech will turn into a performance that your audience enjoys. Your audience will become more attentive as a result.

To be most effective, gestures should be made above the elbow and away from the body. They should be full and varied rather than partial and repetitious. Some examples of gestures include:

  1. Lifting both hands outwards with the palms up
  2. Raising the arm and one outstretched finger into the air
  3. Clenching of one or both fists
  4. One or two hands placed on the hip
  5. Wrinkling of the face, eyes, nose

With so many other things to consider when delivering a speech, it can be difficult to focus on the visual communication you use. That is why planning body language in advance is such an important part of preparing for a speech. Learn more about body language in a separate article here.

9) Rehearse Again!

Earlier in the series I wrote about the importance of practicing with an early draft outline. A couple of steps later, hopefully by now you have come a long way towards mastering a final iteration of your speech. Further rehearsal is an essential part of preparing at this stage, there’s no just escape!

Put the speech outline in front of you, stand up and practice delivering based on the techniques you’ve learned so far in this blog series. Practice as if the audience is sitting right there in front of you. It may feel silly at first, but you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly. As you practice, and practice again and again, you’ll find you need to rely on your outline less and less. Here are some of other the benefits you’ll receive from practicing a speech:

  • You’ll discover awkward words or tongue-twisters that you missed when writing
  • You’ll gauge your energy level. If you are to inspire you need to be fully charged
  • You’ll identify whether or not you are finishing on time
  • You’ll increase confidence and reduce nerves

Prepare for a Speech

Here are some ideas to make the most of a practice session:

  • Re-create the speech setting by practicing where you’ll be speaking
  • Practice with an audience… even if it’s not your target audience
  • Experiment with different voices, gestures and body language
  • Time the delivery and take notes on the performance
  • Audio or video record the performance for self-assessment
  • Solicit feedback from others, asking for honest opinion

10) Settle into the Venue

You should always try to scope out the conference room, classroom or auditorium where you will be presenting in advance of the day of the speech itself. Being familiar with the venue and knowing the seating arrangements, where the equipment and lighting are located etc. will mean a lot less anxiety before you speak. If it is not possible to settle into the venue in advance of speech day, at the very least plan to arrive early and ensure that you have everything you need.

11) Meet the Audience

Ok, so you’ve made it to the big day. Before you deliver your speech a great tip for last minute preparation is to meet members of the audience, shake their hands and well, basically, have a chat! Speaking with your audience informally demonstrates that you’re approachable and personable. You will probably even learn a few names or interesting stories that you can reference during the presentation – a great way to connect with and engage the audience during the speech. Plus, having a conversation with your audience ahead of time transforms scary ‘public’ speaking into natural relaxed ‘personal’ speaking by putting you at ease.

12) Take Time Out

Never underestimate the power of deep breathing. In the moments before a speech try the following:

Take a few conscious, evenly paced, smooth, deep inhalations and exhalations, let the breath go all the way down into the abdomen. Repeat 10 times.

This simple preparation technique will have the effect of maximising oxygen flows to your lungs and brain triggering your body’s relaxation response. For more on deep breathing and other relaxation techniques, I’d recommend checking out Amy Cuddy’s excellent TED talk here.

Prepare for a Speech

Over to You

Now that you’ve made it this far in your preparation you are certain to succeed. The final step is to visualise your speech wowing an audience and delivering huge applause! Replace the thought “I’m so nervous and unprepared, I’m going to be awful” with a positive statement such as “I’m an expert on my topic, I am totally prepared”. It’s these last minute words of encouragement that will provide you with the confidence you need. Now get up there and speak!