“Everyone wants to win, but not everyone is willing to prepare to win.” (Bobby Knight)
What deters most people in the pursuit of their goals and desires is rarely what they actually have to do. It is the preparation before doing what they have to do. Most people are lazy. They want the success without the sweat.
Before you speak, you probably know that you need to write your speech, practice, and prepare before hand. However, there are steps that you can take on the day of your talk, just before you speak, that will prepare you for an even better result. These 5 steps are simple, yet they can make the difference between appearing polished and professional, as opposed to appearing unenergized and disconnected.
Follow these 5 “Prep Steps” before you speak, and you will notice an immediate upgrade to your talks.
“Prep Step” #1 – Pronunciation
Have you ever listened to your speech after delivering it? You may listen for proper story structure, audience reaction, and content. But have you ever listened to your pronunciation of your words? Take special note of how you pronounce each word that you say. Listen for whether you trail off at the end of any words or sentences. Note your volume throughout your speech. Are you speaking with “lazy linguistics”?
I used to truncate the word “remember”. I would say the word so fast, that it sounded as if I was saying “-member”, instead of the full word. This did not turn the audience against me, but when you take the time to pronounce all of your syllables clearly and coherently, you sound much more professional. Watch for this. Multi syllable commonly used words are typically the culprits. Take your time and slow down when you speak.
ACTION STEP – Slowly speak your national anthem to yourself while on the way to your next speech. Deliberately speak VERY slowly, clearly pronouncing each word and syllable out loud. This will get you in “proper pronunciation” mode!
“Prep Step” #2 – Hydration
Ah, stage “dry mouth”. Has it ever hit you? Trust me, it sucks! Especially when you are trying to deliver a poignant point or memorable message. It is very distracting to watch a speaker try to prevent her tongue from sticking to her mouth while she is delivering her words. For the speaker, it is frustrating, embarrassing...and preventable.
ACTION STEP – Simply take a small bottle of water with you on stage. When should you sip? This is really up to you, but I find that giving your audience an activity, then sipping while they are talking amongst themselves, is a good time to do it. That being said, if you need water while on stage, just take a sip whenever you need it. It is better to take a sip and have a moment of silence, then to try and “suffer through” and experience speakers dry mouth on stage.
Prevention – Stay hydrated with water throughout the day leading up to your speaking engagement. Avoid excessive sodium and sugars as these dehydrate you. Think of eating a “bland” tasting menu on the day of your event.
“Prep Step” #3 – Nutrition
Before your speech is NOT the time to try seafood for the first time. This is NOT the time to get adventurous with your diet!! When it comes to pre-speech nutrition, pay attention not only to staying hydrated, but also to what you eat. Stay away from heavy, fattier foods on the day of your talk. The last thing that you want is to feel heavy when you speak. You want your blood to be in your brain keeping you charged and on point, not in your stomach digesting the pizza you gorged before speaking!
ACTION STEP – Be aware of your nutrition and how it affects you when you speak. If you speak in the morning, does coffee and a muffin give you too much of a rush? Is eating an hour before you speak too soon? Know your body, and how food affects your energy when you are on stage. For example, I like to be hungry when I speak. Not starving (stomach sounds can be distracting), but at the point where within an hour after I speak, I will NEED to eat. A slightly empty stomach is the good “speaking point” for me as long as I am hydrated. Figure out your nutrition set point when speaking.
“Prep Step” #4 – Motivation
Let's face it. You may not always automatically be in the best frame of mind to inspire your audience every time that you are called on to speak. That's natural, that's life. Sometimes you need to pump yourself up to get your energy up to ensure that you have enough to give to your crowd. To motivate yourself before you speak, use what I call the “Stand, Speak and Sing” technique.
Stand: Studies show that your mind affects your body, but the reverse is also true. Your body – the way you stand and adjust your posture – can affect your state of mind as well. Before you speak, stand up, open your stance by putting your hands on your hips, get your head up, and shoulders back. It may seem awkward, but stand this way (or in whatever way you would describe as “ultimately confident”) for a few minutes before you speak, and you WILL feel more motivated.
Speak: There is a Tony Robbins documentary called “I am not Your Guru” that I recommend you watch. Robbins shares a wealth of information, and one nugget that will help you immensely is that he used to talk to himself to build his energy and belief. Speaking words of encouragement to yourself will change your mindset, and maximize your self-motivation. What should you speak? The phrases that represent the outcome that you want. Want your audience to be inspired? Say “The audience is inspired and motivated by my talk.” Want to give an excellent presentation? Say “The audience loved my talk. I stood tall, spoke from the heart, and connected and impacted my crowd.” Use whatever works for you, but speak.
Sing: What songs pump you up? As a fitness trainer and former fitness model, I understand the importance of working out, even when you do not feel like it. Studies show that your strength and cardiovascular ability are at least 15% higher when you listen to music while working out. SCIENCE, not Speculation. When you speak, take advantage of this. Listen to your favourite song before you speak. Take a step further and SING the parts that pump you up the most. Then go rock the stage.
ACTION STEP – In addition to the Stand, Speak and Sing technique, monitor the input into your mind, not only just before you speak, but ALL day leading up to your talk. Were you supposed to meet a friend or in-laws for a difficult conversation today? Consider postponing it until the day after your presentation. Do you have to discipline an employee or deal with a messy financial situation? Can it wait until after your speech? Little negatives can throw off a positive day if you let them. Yes, have a positive attitude, but minimize the chances for speech day energy drainers by keeping your day as distraction free as possible.
“Prep Step” #5 – Association
Finally, know your crowd before you speak. Get to your event early. Association leads to Ascension. When you talk to people, before you talk to them, you make connections before hitting the stage. Imagine knowing the names of a few people in the audience before you speak. Imagine being able to say, “When I was talking to Peter, he reminded me....” or “Susan told me that...” (ensure you ask if you can use their names on stage to avoid unexpected surprises). When you meet people before you speak, you are no longer speaking to strangers, you're speaking to friends.
ACTION STEP – Get to your venue early. Introduce yourself to people in the crowd. Get to know their other interests. If you have a particularly fruitful conversation, ask that person if it is okay to mention their names on stage. This is a great way to pre-test for volunteers for any activities that you have. For example, I was speaking at a youth event, and I wanted a participant to perform a few push-ups as an activity. When I asked for a volunteer from the stage, no hands when up...except for the kids that I talked to beforehand. Pre-association got me out of a potentially awkward situation!
Use these prep steps. Make your mark as a speaker by doing what others won't do, to make a difference that others won't make.
Don't just “want to win”. Prepare to win.
Kwesi Sekou Millington
Speaker, Mentor, Coach
Kwesi Millington helps speakers, presenters and youth to connect with their audiences and master their messages using the power of storytelling in their speeches & presentations. He is a Certified Public Speaking Coach & Youth Mentor.