The Speech – marking it up
Read over your speech and mark it with a black felt-tip pen or sharpie. Mark it up with stage notes for yourself. Underline words. Put an asterisk in the margin next to your key points. Draw an arrow from the last word of one sentence to the first word of the next if you want to build momentum or power or excitement in your voice. Arrows say "move forward" with the point.
Put a slash mark in places where you need a reminder to take a breath. Write the word "applause" where you want to stop for applause. Write "laughter" for the joke lines. And note the written "pause" between the intro and the body; between the body and the conclusion. I've put additional pauses in a few places for you - elaborate on them, or underscore them if you need to remember them.
At the top of every couple of pages write "SMILE!" so you remember to smile. When you lift your mouth and your cheeks, as in smiling, you change the tone of your voice, making it fuller and richer. You’ll also look better smiling, and hopefully you'll feel better smiling, too.
One caveat – don't over-mark your speech. That can actually work against you, causing confusion and reducing your instructions to chaos.
Preparation – week before
1. Practice. The best way to improve is to practice. Try different delivery methods. Stand in front of your family, stand in front of a mirror, or record yourself ... and review it. Practicing is the best way to improve your delivery. Practice these things:
- Posture. Posture affects your voice. Your voice will be stronger if you stand up straight with your shoulders back.
- Eye contact. You should be able to look at the audience without losing your place in the text.
- Voice. You have to project your voice, even if you have a mic. And, with a mic, practice speaking slowly, and clearly. And, when you’re reading your speech, think about the words that make you tongue-tied, and write alternatives/synonyms.
2. Believe what you’re saying. If you truly believe, then you’ll be enthusiastic and sincere. The human body betrays a liar with certain gestures that say “this is not true” or, “I don’t believe what I’m saying.”
3. Consider a prop. Props break up the monotony of a speech. People remember props. And they’ll remember what you were saying when you used the prop.
4. Remember to scan the room during your remarks. If people are looking at the ceiling or at their feet, if they’re sleeping, talking to their neighbors, talking on the phone... or if a lot of people are leaving the room and it’s not on fire... then you know you’ve gone off point or over your time limit.
The goal is to seem “real” and relatable. That also comes with practice. The more you know your speech, the more time you’ll have on stage to connect with your audience.
Preparation – day-of-event
Find 10-15 minutes just before you go on to review the speech and focus. Carefully read your key points. Let them sink in. Understand them internally. If you can't be alone, explain to people who are around you that you need a few minutes to review your material, and withdraw from the conversation.
To calm your nerves, first, breathe. Take a few long, slow, deep breaths, focusing on your diaphragm. Visualize it compressing and dropping as you breathe. Second, try a visualization exercise. Imagine a large cube of ice in your left hand. Feel the coldness of the ice right in the center of your hand. Feel it starting to melt, and the water running over the edges of your hand.
Close your fingers around it. Open them again. Beyond the feel of it, think about what it looks like, shiny, clear, blue.... and go further if you need to - imagine putting it in your mouth. Of course, if that makes you thirsty, make sure you have a little cup of water with you at the podium so you can stop and take a sip from it during your presentation. Some folks like to imagine holding a golf club. Visualizing the course and the greens can be relaxing.
If the microphone is affixed to the podium, remember these key points:
- Make sure it's adjusted to your height. Pull it a few inches from your mouth.
- Talk just over the top of the microphone, so your "P" sounds don't “pop” in the mic.
- Don't turn away from the mic! When you turn your head, the mic doesn't go with you. Your volume will drop dramatically when you turn away from it.
- The mic can’t do all the work for you. You must project your voice. Speak loudly, clearly, and articulate. Often that means s-l-o-w-i-n-g d- o-w-n.
- If the mic is affixed to your lapel, or if it is a lariat mic, you'll be free to move about the stage. Take two or three steps towards the audience to emphasize a point. But don't over-gesture with that freedom. That can be a distraction.
When you are introduced and you arrive at the podium, take a moment to set everything up – adjust the mic, arrange the speech box, turn to the first page, check to see if you have water, etc. When everything is in place, stop, and pause in silence for six seconds. Look at the audience. Then, begin. A quick, dramatic pause will get the audience’s attention.
While you’re speaking, if you become nervous, press your left thumb (if you’re right-handed) down against the edge of the podium. Some people find that holding on to something tangible grounds them. Or, curl your toes up inside your left shoe. Or, dig one fingernail into your hand. Concentrate all of your nervous energy in one small place. The audience won’t notice the small gesture.
If your mouth is dry and you don’t have water available, rub your tongue against the inside of your teeth. That causes a salivation reflex.
You are the delivery mechanism for your message. Good public speakers are audience-focused. They don’t get in the way of their own message.