"How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"
"Practice! Practice! Practice!"
If you haven't heard that old joke before... where have you been? No one remembers who said it first, however everyone who has to perform before an audience should know it by heart. It's never more true than when we intend to speak to an audience, especially an unfamiliar one, about a subject we know like the back of our hand. There's no greater temptation than simply to say, "I know this material. I don't need to rehearse this speech. I'll just get up and tell them what I know. No sweat."
Self-confidence is great. The sense of sureness about what we know gives us a buoyancy that is sometimes hard to describe, but we know it when we feel it. Unfortunately, knowing something well and explaining it to someone else are often two very different things.
Next time you're planning to speak on a subject you know well and you're tempted to wing it, stop and ask yourself, "Just exactly what am I going to say?" Then answer these questions:
- What is the focus of this talk, the most important idea I want the audience to remember? Do I have a catchy, memorable phrase to describe it or a compelling story that will etch it on their memory? Since most audiences only remember about 20% three days after hearing a particular speech, will my key point be at the top of that 20%?
- Do I have a dynamite beginning and an unforgettable finish? Will my opening grab their attention within the first 45 seconds? Will my big finish rouse them to take the action I'm recommending? Will they remember me as an exciting speaker?
- Are my major talking points organized? Do they build one upon the next? Do I have a few succinct, key points or am I going to inundate them with a laundry list of information? Do I need a handout they can take with them to remember it all?
- Am I prepared for all their questions and do I have a quick, reasoned response if they ask for more information or a clarification of something I said?
- What if someone disagrees with me? Can I think on my feet and be instantly witty or at least amusing? Or should I prepare a few comments in advance that always get a positive response?
- What's my Plan B in case the audio/visual equipment or anything else doesn't work properly?
If you have a positive answer to all of these questions, there's still one more thing you need to do: Practice! Rehearse your speech at least two or three times to yourself or a friend before you actually stand in front of the audience it's meant for. Dictate it into a recorder a couple of times and listen to it in the car or while exercising. You'll find phrases you want to remember and repeat and others you definitely never want to say again! You'll often be surprised at what your brain comes up with when you're focusing on being brilliant.
Remember the Six P's of Public Speaking: Proper Preparation Prevents (Im)possibly-Poor Performance! Then relax!
Give yourself a break. Prepare properly and you'll perform perfectly. And feel confident while you're doing it. You'll be making the most of your opportunity to be influential and inspirational. And that will get you to Carnegie Hall.