5 P's to Perfect Practice
My mother always taught me that "Practice makes Perfect".
I have since learned from speaker Les Brown that "Practice makes Improvement", because you can always strive to Improve as opposed to settling with your version of perfect.
I'm sure most people have heard that practice is important. From speakers to athletes to anyone who has done anything significant in life, practice was likely a part of their routine. Then why do some
people still ignore this when it comes to speaking and communicating?
Have you ever heard someone say, "I'll just speak on the fly.", or "I sound rehearsed when I practice."? Don't believe it. When you speak on the fly, sometimes it comes off great, yes. However there are a small group of speakers and communicators (myself NOT included), that can walk into a room and just speak and "kill it" as they say. (Eric Thomas comes to mind. Google "Eric the Hip hop Preacher"). However, practice makes you better, more polished, and can allow you to see how you can make your speaking more effective and impactful. And don't worry about sounding rehearsed. Even speakers that use notes rarely sound rehearsed. So let's get to 5 methods to apply when you practice to make your speeches more professional, polished, and (close to) perfect.
Perfect Practice Point #1: Practice Perfect Phrases
Do you ever notice that some speakers just seem to have a “way with words”, and others, while they may speak well, don't seem to sound as rhythmic or pleasing to the ear? With some speakers, it may be natural; but for most, it is likely deliberate. There are ways to speak that amount to just getting your point across, and there are other ways that make a much deeper connection. The phrases you use can be changed in the slightest of ways to make the greatest impact. How do you accomplish this? SPEAK TO LEARNING TYPES. There are 3 ways in which people predominantly learn: Visually, Audibly, and Kinesthetically: in other words by Seeing, Hearing or Doing. You may have heard this before – you may have even heard that you connect with the Visual learners through pleasing visual aids and Kinesthetic learners through activities. However, the way you speak should connect with all three learners as well. In your speaking, use words such as “I could SEE the end of the tunnel” for Visual learners; “I could HEAR the rhythm of the rain on my window” for Auditory learners; and “I could FEEL the pain of rejection” for Kinesthetic learners. Using words that apply to seeing, hearing and feeling when you speak will connect you to your audience.
Perfect Practice Point #2: Practice with Various Body Positions
When you speak in front of an audience, you will likely be standing and walking on a stage. If that is the case, then why do most people practice while lying down or sitting only? When I practice before a talk, I stand and move as if there is an audience in front of me (I likely look crazy at times pacing in front of my kitchen counter to neighbours that pass by!). I want to imitate the feeling that I am going to have when I deliver my speech, so I want my body to be in that position too. When you practice a speech or talk, stand and deliver as if you were already on stage! Practice your talk while standing as if the audience is there. Stand up and notice your body position as you talk. Note if you are slouching, or pacing too much. Practice stopping at your important points in your talk. Practice your movements and hand positions that you intend on delivering live – then when you get to your talk, as World Champion Speaker Craig Valentine says, “It will feel like deja vu!”
Perfect Practice Point #3: Practice with Mistakes
Have you ever practised a speech, made a mistake, then started your practice over again? Why would you do that? What are you going to do if you make a mistake LIVE? Start over? No! You're going to keep on going! So when you are practising, if you make a mistake, keep going! It's actually a good feeling. Why do I say that? Because when you make a mistake while you are practising, then you keep on going and finish your speech, you will look back and think to yourself, “The speech actually went pretty well anyways!” In addition, you won't get frazzled in your live delivery if you make a mistake, because you will now know that you can keep going, and give a good talk – because you know the feeling of finishing despite making mistakes. In any event, people will remember 3 things over all when you speak: your message, how you start your speech, and how you end it. So don't worry about making mistakes, just keep going – even in practice.
Perfect Practice Point #4: Practice Anywhere
Imagine this. You've turned off the tv, your phone is on vibrate, you have locked yourself in a room and asked not to be disturbed. It's perfectly quiet. You could hear a pin drop! A perfect environment in which to practice your speech without interruption. There is only ONE problem: that “perfect” environment is NOT realistic. When you deliver a speech, you will not always have perfect quiet. In fact, chances are that someone will laugh when they are not supposed to, a phone will ring unexpectedly, a person may comment in a way you were not expecting, the power could go out, basically anything BUT perfect silence could happen during your speech. So here is the way to bulletproof yourself against these unexpected events: PRACTICE ANYWHERE. Yes practising in a quiet room is good when you get the chance. But add in practice anywhere you are. In fact, make practising in distracting environments a regular practice! Practice while you are driving to work. Practice while you are in the shower. Practice while you're changing the baby. Practice while you're walking the dog. Why? Because just like in a live presentation, life happens and sometimes things will happen that you did not expect. If you only ever practice in peace and quiet, the smallest distractions will completely throw you off! So practice anywhere and anytime. Great athletes practice rain or shine, so that they are ready for anything at game time. Think of yourself as a Speaking Athlete! Practice anytime, rain or shine!
Perfect Practice Point #5: Simply...Practice
Larry Bird used to take 500 free throws in the mornings. Michael Jordan once said, “I play to win, whether during practice or a real game.” They believed in practice, and have 9 professional basketball championships to show for it.
Another former professional basketball player (that will go unnamed) once famously said, “Practice! Why are we here talking about Practice!”. How many basketball championships did he win? Zero. Practice makes Champions. So whether you want to be a Super Speaker, or just want to improve your skills for communication purposes, there is no substitute for Practice. Practice may not make Perfect, but it sure makes you look much more Professional.
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.