How to improve Public Speaking at home
If you have a presentation coming up and you want it to go well, there is no reason why you cannot do a lot of good preparation for it at home. The proviso is the same as for any venture, like learning an instrument, getting fit or anything that requires a mixture of technique and discipline. If you know what to do and just have to get motivated to do it, then with a bit of focus and will-power you can do the necessary.
However, there is a reason why most of us need a life coach to get organised or need to join a gym to get properly fit, because sometimes it is not just about getting round to dong the right things, it is also making sure that we are doing the right things right!
I remember when I was still very much developing as a ‘cellist, I found myself without a teacher for a few months. I had the commitment to keep on practising without a teacher, so it was not the enforcement of a routine that I needed, but I did find that after a few weeks I was getting stuck and I did not know how to get better. The ‘cellos is admittedly a very technical instrument and for most people it is essential to have a teacher casting an eye over what you do. Sometimes, like an athlete, a little comment like:
‘Left shoulder, down a little,’ can make all the difference; having said that, there are many excellent guitarists in the world who have never had a formal lesson.
Some tips for preparing for a presentation at home.
The most common fault in Public Speaking presentations is that they are either underprepared or poorly prepared. If you are cooking a meal for friend and don’t get started until ten minutes before the mealtime, it does not matter how hard you work, the meal will be undercooked. Presentations need time to bed in and settle. Therefore the recommendation is to start thinking about it about one month before it needs to be delivered. This is where working from home really does help, because I am not suggesting that one month beforehand you sit down and try to write out a full speaking script (a full speaking script will tend to make the final presentation a little stiff and inflexible anyway). Give yourself half an hour one evening after work, sitting in a comfortable chair, maybe with a little notepad if it helps to jot down ideas, or simply letting your mind wander. Instead of turning on the TV or watching a video, give yourself some drifting time.
There are two directions you can go in:
(i) What is the message I want or need to put across in my presentation?
(ii) What could I talk about and how could I make it relevant to my audience?
If you start by establishing your message, you are focusing in on the ‘destination’ of your presentation and you can begin to think about what events, stories and statistics you could use to make your point.
If you start with a broader focus, you could be thinking about things you heard or read in the news, comments that a friend or colleague has made, observations from society or nature. And then you can start to think about how they might connect with an important message that you would share with your audience.
You may have written down a few ideas over those few minutes and they may not even seem to connect.
That does not matter. This is a simple, open ‘blue sky thinking’ session. It is not the time to evaluate: just to think freely.
Job done for today! Make a cup of tea; pour yourself a glass of something stronger or go and tidy the kitchen.
Leave it for a bit
The temptation might be to carry on and start to assemble the presentation. It might be too early.
Your thinking session has sourced out some ingredients and the best thing to do now is leave them in the ‘slow cooker’ and come back a few days later and see what you have got.
Again it is ideal for approaching in the more relaxed environment of home.
(I am of course assuming that if you have small children, you have got them off to bed;
if you partner or housemate is addicted to ‘East Enders’, that is happening in another room
and that somehow you have won a little head-space and room-space free of distractions.)
Think about or look over the ideas you came up with before. Some or most of them will look pretty stupid or do not seem to be going anywhere. You might have one or two apparently unrelated ideas that might have a spark to them. You then realise that on some level they are connected:
- watching your child on the climbing frame in the park;
- that TV programme you watched about the early settlers in the USA;
- the article you read about investing in new enterprises – on one level they could all be about ‘stretching yourself and expanding your horizons’.
Again you could leave it for a few days or maybe you feel ready to move further.
You might now start to think about what media, slides or pictures you could use in the presentation;
do a bit of further research
work out an order of content
plan how to join the sections.
This might be the moment to sit down at a table and write a plan or flow chart
Rehearse the structure
This is where home preparation really comes in to its own.
You want your presentation to find its own shape and follow its own path
So having worked out a possible plan or flow chart, rather than reaching for a pen and writing words, words, words, take advantage of those little dead moments in the day and put them to use:
- while you are washing up
- walking the dog
- waiting for the bus
- sitting on the train
Choose a section of your presentation – maybe that TV programme about American settlers – a think it through as if you might be presenting it to another person. These days with hands free mobile phones we are constantly walking past people who appear to be talking to themselves. I remember having a few moments between appointments to rehearse an upcoming speech a few years ago. I was in a park in Lewisham, London and I took the chance to talk through a section of my presentation. This was before hands free phones. I was approached by a couple of young men who had been watching me, who wanted to know what I was doing. They said they could not decide whether I was having some sort of breakdown or whether I was a modern druid who was talking to the plants and trees.
Taking a few moments to talk through a section will allow it to bed in. It means that gradually the best words and phrases will become clearer to you. And most importantly, your delivery will become more natural as it has been allowed to develop its own means expression. Some parts of your story, you will realise are not necessary – you can leave them out, other parts take on greater significance and you learn to emphasise them more.
We are blessed with sophisticated technology all around us: mobile phones with cameras and speakers, tablets, wide screen TVs. So it has never been easier to record yourself and watch it back. Don’t start until you are already fairly clear about the flow of your presentation. I do not want you to start using a vido play back as a way to structure and plan your presentation. The main benefit of recording is to attend to your voice.
Are you speaking too fast?
Are you speaking clearly?
Are you varying your tone of voice?
Video is not as important, although you can use it to cast an eye over your stance and notice whether there are any involuntary actions that you were unaware of, the greatest benefit of playback is to check on your voice.
If your voice is too fast, slow down and focus on key words to emphasise
If you are unclear, make sure you are finishing each word and maybe concentrate on moving your mouth / lips more
If your tone lack variety, rather than forcing yourself, look for better words that require more vocal effort
(‘brilliant’, ‘enormous’, ‘unbelievable’)
Use a mirror
Be careful on this one!
I have witnessed many speeches where the speaker has clearly practised incessantly in front of a mirror and all the gestures are there, but they are forced, unnatural and look like an air steward explaining the evacuation procedure from a plane.
Ideally, use a full length mirror!
Use it to establish a good stance and posture and – Yes – you can check on your gestures, but make sure they are always reflecting your voice and choice of words and are not forced or artificially generated.
Use a friend
Practise. Practise. Practise.
If you have a housemate or a personal relationship that can take the strain, ask someone to listen to you.
Feedback is always useful, but don’t ask your hyper-critical mother, who has always found fault in everything you do; especially if you end up getting annoyed with the feedback. Either speak in front of someone whose sensitivity and tact you trust, and who understands the purpose of feedback (to support and help improve – not to criticise) or give them some parameters for what you want to hear
‘I know my voice gets a little strained and I go red when I speak, but I just want you to tell me if I am speaking clearly and whether you understand the message I am trying to put across.’
In the end, whether you are speaking your speech to a friend or just to a mirror or into a phone, the most important thing is to speak it through as many times as possible. That way it starts to feel natural and less constrained.
The aim is to feel confident of the structure and the purpose, not to have learnt every word by heart.
To sum up
- Start early
- Allow time for the speech to find itself
- Use odd moments, or dead time to talk through sections of the presentation
- Use friends or technology to help you improve
Go through it often until you are clear about how it should flow