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4 Steps to Preparing a Great Speech

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Most people find speaking in public terrifying. That is a learned fear. You had no trouble babbling on and on about everything, anything and nothing when you were an infant. As you grew, you learned to be afraid of what people thought, to be wary of strangers and to feel sensitive to the judgement of others. Yet, some of the most powerful, successful entrepreneurs out there have positioned themselves as a result of their ability to speak in public.

I have more than 10,000 hours of public speaking experience, and I have had the privilege of training many novice public speakers who now earn their living from their ability at the front of the room. Here are four simple tips I taught them, that if you put to work, will drastically change your ability in the front of the room, or in front of a camera. These are in order. Do #1 before moving on to #2 and so on. 

1. Study it Out

One of my favorite TV series is Shark Tank. What always surprises me is when the young entrepreneurs get up in front of the sharks to pitch their idea and they get stumped by a question. This almost always ends up ends costing them the deal. Who would dare invest in a company founded by a person that doesn't fully understand his/her product, finances or marketplace? 

The first step before getting up in front of an audience is to study. Study like you're writing an exam worth 100% of your grade. Learn everything you could possibly know about your topic, even though you'll only share a fraction of it. This will cause two things to happen. First, you'll feel ultra confident. No matter what anyone asks you'll have the answer, even if their question is a tangent question. Second, this is the only way to really get clear on what you DON'T want to say. One of the biggest mistakes of public speaking is saying too much. When you study exhaustively as a first step, you'll be able to trim that content down to what you actually want to share. All the rest of the stuff is just ammunition for you public presentation, and confidence at your core.

Think about TED Talks. These are experts in their field sharing their wisdom for 20 minutes or less. They could talk for days -- probably years! But they don't. They talk specifically about one topic for 20 minutes and leave their audience wanting more. Watch a few to observe this.

2. Think it Clear

Now that you have comprehensive understanding of your subject matter, you need to do the work of choosing what to say. Take the content you want to share, break it down into a few (three or four at the most) clear and easy to understand chunks.

Now rehearse. With all of your paper and notes in front of you, just start spewing words as if you were sharing in front of a crowd. You'll quickly notice how your brain works. Things that look really clear on paper, sound muddled and garbled when you start speaking out loud. That's the point! Do this in the privacy of your office or home to get it out of the way. 

Then rehearse again. Refine it. Trim your notes. Say it again, say it clearer. Memorize your key thoughts. Memorize your punch lines. Slow yourself down. Pause intentionally. And keep rehearsing. 

Mark Twain said it well:

Mark Twain Quote

My personal rule is that I'll never get up to speak on a subject until I've rehearsed at least ten times. Yes, ten (10!). By the time I get up to say it, I almost never need to look at notes, I feel great about my content, and I'm ready to roll. 

Step two is about practice, practice and more practice. Think it clear!

3. Psych it Up

Now that you're ready, public speech in hand, clearly thought through -- it's time to get your head in the right place. Time to psych yourself up! There are many ways to do this, including visualization, meditation, affirmation, etc. I'd suggest reading up on these to get really clear on what works best for you. In the meantime, let's get dialed in on the easiest one to execute. Visualization.

Start with your eyes closed and imagine yourself doing what you've set out to do. See yourself there in front of the audience, talking. See everything. How you stand and walk. What does your posture look like? Your facial expression? Does it change? How much are you smiling? See yourself as you want to be. Powerful, fun, engaging and confident. See your audience react. And however they react, notice how easily you confidently remain on point, doing what you do with grace and style.

Now open your eyes and walk and talk as if you were there in that visual space. Be the person you saw. Rehearse again, this time focused on all of the external factors you visualized instead of your content.

Within an hour or two of your actual public speech or video recording, go through this visualization process again. See yourself, your audience, your presentation -- exactly how you want it to look. In a future post, I'll share the brain science behind this technique. 

4. Let it Loose

The last step is to let go! I've had a ton of fun over the last six years coaching little league for my sons. Every now and again we'll be in a game situation where a pitcher just can't throw a strike to save his life. He's in a rut and can't get out. The more he thinks about it, the worse it gets. Here's what I do. I call time and approach the mound. I wave off the other players so I can have a moment alone with the pitcher. And then I ask him/her about their pitching training. "Have you been trained how to do this? When you practice, are you pretty good? Have you ever imagined yourself pitching great?" The only possible answers to these questions is yes (again, stay tuned for some brain science posts coming up to explain why that works). I then tell them that I believe that they can absolutely throw a perfect pitch, but not if they they're trying to. "Son, all you have to do is throw the ball and just trust your arm. And you'll find it's easy to throw great strikes when you just trust your arm. Trust. Your. Arm." Almost without fail, three of the next four pitches will be strikes. 

When we attempt to take conscious control of the process of public speaking, we look like a struggling little league pitcher. He knows he can do better, he's just so caught up in his own head that he can't find the zone. Here's the spin (this is for you now, answer these questions):

Have you spent the time to prepare for this public speech? Have you practiced? And did you sound pretty decent in a couple of those practices? Have you imagined yourself speaking great? If you have, then I believe you can deliver an amazing speech, but not if your trying to. Dude, all you have to is trust your mind. It's easy to be an awesome public speaker when you just trust your mind. Trust. Your. Mind.

You've studied up until you made yourself a consummate expert on your subject. You thought it through, carefully rehearsing multiple times. You psyched yourself up, getting ready to do it. Now just let go, and go be YOU! People will love your authenticity if you'll just let it happen.



Oct 13, 2015 1:47pm
Several good tips in this article. I am most certainly in the minority, but I actually enjoy public speaking. I'm excited several days in advance, just waiting for my opportunity to get to speak!
Oct 13, 2015 2:22pm
Thanks thaniz! I look forward to public speaking as well, but wasn't always that way. When I started years ago, I was so nervous, I was literally shaking too much to be able to reference my notes! Long story, but I'm in a different place today!

Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting!
Oct 22, 2015 2:34pm
Public speaking is definitely tough. I've never been too good at it. Good advice all around.
Oct 23, 2015 7:00am
Yes its tough alright! I've always admired people who do it naturally. Thanks for reading and for commenting sir!
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