A good delivery is the icing on the cake when you’ve got a well crafted speech. It helps hit your message home with your audience and leaves everyone in the room with a good feeling. So how does one improve speech delivery? Is practicing a speech several times enough to ensure a great delivery? Unfortunately, you never truly know how a speech will turn out until you deliver it.
Consider that when you give your speech in front of a live crowd, the following can happen:
- A technical glitch with the lighting, sound, projection or other equipment (wardrobe malfunctions would fall under this as well).
- Interruptions such as food wait staff, cell phones, coughing, etc….
- Unexpected interactions with the audience such as premature or unexpected questions, an exercise not panning out the way you expected or someone heckling you.
- Omitting a key point, joke or story when you deliver your talk.
- The allotted time for your speech changing at the last minute (it could become less if prior presenters go over their time or it could increase if another presenter is unable to give their presentation).
So as you can see, there are a number of things that change the way your speech is delivered. Don’t let this list scare you as most of these would only have a minimal impact on your speech – and all of them can be easily handled.
Use a Mock Audience:
When many people practice their speeches, they practice in front of a mirror — I personally prefer stuffed animals so you can at least practice your eye contact. Others take a step in the right direction and get a mock audience made up of friends, family or colleagues. I used to practice all my important speeches (or at least the trickier parts of them) in front of a Toastmasters club.
The closer you can get to your actual audience, the better. If you’re speaking at conference, ask friends or colleagues with backgrounds similar to people who would be in the actual audience to watch your speech. The most valuable benefit of this is that you’ll get feedback so tell them to not hold back.
Practice for the unexpected:
The easiest way to tell a good speaker with a lot of speaking experience from a good speaker who’s relatively new to speaking is how they handle distractions. Experienced speakers have had audience members sneeze, cough, take calls on their cell phones, leave the room crying and do things that many of us can’t even imagine. They don’t miss a beat when a waiter comes crashing through the door with noisy plates of food or a cell phone with a loud an obnoxious ringtone rings.
So how can you quickly get experience dealing with these situations? Ask your mock audience to do these things while you practice. If you don’t have a mock audience, a loud kitchen timer or anything with an alarm that you can set will work as well. Simply set one or more alarms for a random interval so that they’ll go off during your speech. The first few times, it may throw you off a bit or break your concentration, but you’ll quickly find that you’ll get used to distractions and you’ll handle them gracefully.
This motto applies to more than the Boy Scouts. Whenever I’m using any kind of technology for my speech (such as PowerPoint) I always ask myself what can possibly go wrong and try to figure out what I can do about it such as bringing an extra extension cord or duct tape to tape the cords down.
If you’re speaking at an event where there are other speakers before you, there’s a good chance that at least one person will go over their allotted time and that you’ll have to cut your speech down. Thinking about this ahead of time will relieve a great deal of stress should it actually happen because you know that you can cut out a couple stories or a sub point to pare down your talk to meet the new time limit.
In general, as part of your speech preparation, try to anticipate the things that can adversely affect your speech. Knowing that computers and projectors are prone to technical glitches, wait staff don’t always remember to not clear plates while you’re talking and audience members may not always be respectful can help you adequately prepare for potential problems. And if the unexpected occurs, don’t get upset and allow it to throw you off. Instead, go with it and try to make light of the problem. Remember that sometimes a challenge can be an unexpected opportunity for greatness.