Starting is the hardest part: how to begin preparing to speak in public.

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You care about doing a good job and want to begin preparing to speak.  So why do you keep putting off practicing?

It’s official.  Your upcoming presentation, pitch, interview, speech [you get the idea] is confirmed and on your calendar.  You watch the time tick by as the big day inches closer. And you want to prepare. Truly, you do. So why do you keep putting it off?  It’s easy to blame it on procrastination.  Or because you are just too busy to get started.  Yet what if a bigger culprit is to blame? One you’re not actually aware of?  What if it’s because you actually don’t know how to begin?  

If this is the case, never fear!  Here is a 5 point step-by-step guide on how to begin preparing to speak publicly which will set you on the path to giving a killer presentation and successfully own the room.

Step 1:  Find a private, quiet, space to practice.  Bonus points if it’s not your bedroom.  

One inadvertent pitfall of practicing in a familiar place like your bedroom or living room is that it’s typically a place you are your most relaxed.  Imagine what it would be like if you dressed and conducted yourself at work the way you do in the privacy of your own home. Awkward, right? Plus you may be surrounded by things that could easily distract you (think: partner or roommate coming home who needs help unloading the groceries; your pet who wants to be fed). 

It’s ideal to practice in a space with energy similar to the space you’ll be in for the big event.  Is there a conference room you could sign out to use at work? Does the area you live in offer affordable meeting spaces that are rent by the hour?

Step 2: Dress the part.  

Are you going to give your presentation in a hoodie and sweatpants?  Most likely not. Will you be in flip flops or sneakers? No? Then, what type of shoe will you be wearing?  Wearing formal clothing like a suit and dress shoes affects how we feel in our bodies. They can change how we breathe and stand.  I had a client once who shared she spent weeks preparing for a big keynote only to have her focus totally thrown off by the feeling of wearing high heels during her talk.

Step 3: Visualize your ideal setup.

Before you begin practicing, it’s important to identify your ideal circumstances in which to speak publicly.  Especially if you detest speaking in front of an audience this will help you avoid adding insult to injury. Do you prefer a hand-held microphone rather than a lavalier?  Does the idea of speaking behind a podium feel reassuring or make you feel trapped? Is speaking in front of projected slides distracting or empowering to you?

If you’ve never had to ask yourself these questions before and aren’t immediately sure of your answers, that’s ok!  Your body will tell you what it wants when you get on your feet and start to practice. Some components of your setup may be non-negotiable.  For example, the venue may only provide hand-held microphones even though you’d give anything for a lapel mic so if this is the case it’s good information to have from square one.  Get ready to practice while holding that paper towel tube.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want/need.  My mother has a phrase I quote often: You don’t ask, you don’t get.  It may just be possible for them to move the projection screen after all.

Step 4: Map your audience.

This step is a two-parter.  First, identify who your audience is but go beyond the obvious.  Instead of, “they are prospective clients,” try this. “They are people who deeply believe in the product they spent two years building and hope my marketing plan will validate their significant efforts.”  Then, name the power dynamic that will be in the room. Who holds the power? Do you? Do they? Is it equal? Out of an audience of 50 people, are there four people in the room who hold all the power?

Now articulate how you want to affect your audience.  What do you want them to do or feel? Do you want them trust you? Feel inspired?  Be impressed? Experience shock?  To be reassured? If you try and achieve this objective through your vocal tone and physicality it is called, playing an action.  Here’s a list of examples for inspiration.

Step 5: Identify your unique communication style.

Much like step 3 which asks you to understand the physical environment in which you’re most comfortable speaking in, this step is all about knowing how to make your unique communication style work for you and get ahead of the curve when it comes to ways it may work against you.

Do you tend to excel in front of audiences of 5-10 but in larger forums nerves start to kick in?  Or, maybe you prefer the anonymity of talking in front of big audiences but if that number shrinks below 15 you break a sweat?  Do you feel more comfortable using talking points or do you really need to memorize what you’re going to say word for word?

Sometimes clients will say, “I saw so-and-so give a great presentation only using talking points.  That means I should only use talking points too.” But that’s what worked for them.  What if talking points aren’t enough to help you through?  Admit what you need to succeed and then give that gift to yourself.  This is also extends to your personality type. Here’s a communication style questionnaire we share with clients to help them hone in on the type of communicator they are.

If you’re an introvert and terrible at telling jokes, but read somewhere, “It’s good to start every talk with a joke,” so you do, and it totally bombs, what good did that do you?  Let the type of communicator you are guide you as you practice. For example, if you’re a fast-talking extrovert, try devoting your first practice session to delivering your presentation at half-speed.

It’s cliche but true - starting really is half the battle.  I hope the steps above provide a realistic, actionable, and clear framework to help you get started preparing for your upcoming speaking opportunity….and the one after that, and the one after that!