I recently attended a wedding of one of my daughter’s childhood friends. A pretty affair, it had all the standard elements you expect at a wedding: service, reception, cocktail hour, introduction of the wedding party, etc.
It also had toasts, a few of them.
The best man read his toast. Not a bad thing.
And he struggled. Bad thing.
That got me thinking about the marriage of practice and performance
What he struggled with was reading his toast. Every time he looked at his speech it looked like he was seeing it for the first time.
The one mistake you can’t afford to make
You should never look like you’re seeing your speech for the first time—whether you are giving a toast or making a presentation to a board of directors.
You should practice it enough so you not only look comfortable but so you only need a few words to remind you of where you are and what comes next.
A simple way to prepare
Here’s a simple, five-step technique that will ensure you never look lost reading your notes and that you only need notes instead of the full script:
- Write out your entire speech or presentation. Word for word. Put down every single word you intend to say.
- Practice reading it out loud until you become comfortable with it. This will be different for everyone. Some people need to do this once, others three or four times.
- Record yourself reading the speech. Use your smartphone.
- Play back the recording over and over during your drive time in your car or on your commute to and from work. How do you think you learned the lyrics to your favorite songs? You listened to them over and over. Do the same thing with your speech or presentation. It will engrain the content and the delivery in your mind.
- Reduce your written speech to a few words, a simple outline that will remind you where you are and what comes next.
By this point you will know your talk or presentation so well, the outline notes will be a safety net, a backup, that will give you a sense of comfort just in case you forget where you are or what comes next.
The combination of strategic practice and confidence leads to a strong performance. That’s the marriage of practice and performance. Like all good marriages, sometimes one partner will have to carry the other but over time they balance each other out.
Using this technique will ensure that you never get caught looking and sounding like you’re seeing your speech or presentation for the first time in front of an audience.
And as for complaints of “I don’t have time to practice,” what you should really say is “I don’t have the opportunity to ever go back and perform better in that one, crucial moment.”