Practicing Public Speaking Help
Introduction Practicing Public Speaking
An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.
—Mahatma Gandhi, 1869–1948
Nobody ever learned a new skill without practice. The more you rehearse, the stronger your speech will be. In this lesson, we will consider some ways of doing this.
We must remember that public speaking is a skill—more specifically, a learned skill. It is true that some people are born with talent for the performing arts and some are not, but anyone can learn to speak effectively just as much as anyone can learn to drive a car. The main ingredient of learning any skill is to practice. Simply reading this book will not make you an effective public speaker; you need to do it to learn it.
Use a Video Camera
If at all possible, use a video camera to tape yourself rehearsing your actual speech. An audio recorder will suffice if you can't get your hands on video, but seeing yourself is infinitely more valuable. You will be delivering the speech in person rather than over the radio, after all, and your audience will clearly see you.
Place the camera on a tripod if you can get one; if not, position it securely atop a table or pile of books. You can also have a friend run the camera, but you do not want it hand-held. The camera needs to be completely stationary so that the entire focus is on you, without any distracting camera motion coming into play. Zoom the lens out enough to see yourself from the top of your head to your waist, but not so far that you can't get a good look at your face.
Ideally, you should make at least two separate videos. The first will be on your first or second pass through the speech. When you watch it, you will mostly pay attention to the content of your speech, looking for places that need strengthening. Subsequent videos will be made as your speech develops. In watching these, you will want to pay more attention to your delivery than to your content.
Try closing your eyes during parts of your second or third video, listening only to your voice. This will help you detect any verbal mannerisms that might be distracting, while also analyzing whether you are using effective voice inflections. Then try watching yourself with the sound turned off, paying attention strictly to your visual presentation.
If you're using slides, PowerPoint, or similar visual aids (other than three-dimensional objects), do not worry about capturing them on the video. You can analyze their effectiveness separately. The video is strictly to assess your own performance, both visually and audibly. (However, you will still want to be including those visual aids when giving your speech, even though the camera is not recording them.)
As your speech becomes more polished, conscript a friend or family member to be your captive audience. (You can do this while videotaping, if necessary.) Speaking to a live audience influences your delivery in subtle but important ways.
You will get a real-time sense of your audience's response as you rehearse this way. You will also get the feel for making eye contact, using visual aids, and setting your delivery cadence when speaking to real people. The more you practice these techniques, the more likely it is that they will become second nature.
Another major value of imposing on friends is to get their reactions. You will get some sense of your effectiveness during your speech, gauging whether they are bored, confused, interested, engaged, and so forth. But the bigger value comes from their critique when you're done.
For this part, you should ask your audience to be harsh! Most people are hesitant to sound judgmental or critical of a friend or family member, and they might not want to tell you truthfully if there was a problem. They will be doing you a great disservice if they hold back, and you should ask them to be as honest and forthright as possible. Give them a copy of the exercise at the end of this lesson and ask them to critique you on it.
One more important step: Have your audience ask questions when you're done. Ask them to be thinking of some challenging questions while you are speaking. This will give you some practice fielding questions, and it will also help you to prepare intelligently for any real-life questions you might be fielding when you give your speech.
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