Feb 19, 2012

What questions do you have for my answers?

This is a guest post by Leon Potgieter. He is an English Teacher, Christian Minister and Public Speaking Enthusiast who’s been living in the Republic of Korea since 2008.  His website effective-public-speaking-tips.com is an ever growing online portal for public speaking tips, speechwriting help and presentation techniques.

What questions do you have for my answers?
The undisputable power of practice and rehearsal for public speaking.

The first shot he saw me hit went in the hole. He said, “You got 50 bucks if you knock the next one in.” I holed the next one. Then he says, “You got $100 if you hole the next one.” In it went for three in a row. As he peeled off the bills he said, “Boy, I’ve never seen anyone so lucky in my life.” And I shot back, “Well, the harder I practice, the luckier I get.” – Gary Player, South African Golfer and winner of 24 PGA Tours.

The often under appreciated power of practice and rehearsal might by now be cliché to you. Redundant advice that deserves no repetition or exposure on the public speaking blogosphere.  And yet, the very many speeches that I have heard, where talented and experienced speakers have botched up their deliveries by stumbling over their sentences, juggling between different sets of notes, getting their slides mixed up and using more “uums” and “yaknows” than actual English, still testifies to the fact that many Public speakers simply do not understand the importance of private rehearsal.  Either that, or they understand it but still don’t DO it (which is just as useless).

I could flesh out a large list of benefits that this single habit will throw your way, but it boils down to two very important things: Confidence & Smoother delivery.

Regarding confidence, it’s a fact that knowing your material, and knowing that you know your material, is the single most effective way to beat the soapbox shakes. Speakers who approach the lectern with the knowledge that they’ve done their part back home, that they’ve beat the practice drum, done the preparation and went through all the rehearsal they possibly needed, will feel naturally confident. This kind of self-assurance cannot but help you deliver a better presentation.

Regarding smoother delivery, it should make sense that practice will help you do better.  Gary Player isn’t the only professional who knows this: Actors, singer, athletes, politicians, cricketers and the weatherman himself knows that the more you sweat on the practice field, the less you bleed on the battlefield. Public Speakers are by no means exempt from this law of reality.

Learning from Pool Tricks
Have you ever seen a pool & domino’s trick?  It’s a pastime for bored bartenders and obsessive pool-fanatics, and the basic idea with these tricks revolves around setting up a series of domino’s and pool balls on strategic places on a table.  Once the choreography is laid out and each piece of the intricate puzzle is in its exact place, all it takes to set the trick in motion is to knock over the first domino.

The rest is almost magical to look at, as (after hours of deliberate and careful preparation) the trick plays itself out with zero interference from the outside. It creates a stunning effect and I think it’s a great picture of what public speaking should look like.  In this case like in ours, the real work, the blood, sweat, tears and cramps takes place behind the scenes, before anyone has showed up or shown an interest in your opinions or the color of your tie.

Whether its research, speechwriting or speech rehearsal, these things make up the bulk of your preparation and when done properly, the delivery itself will most certainly be the easiest part of the whole thing.  It’ll take no more effort than knocking over a single domino.

Learning from the Masters
Masterful keynote speakers, like the late Steve Jobs are often known for their great deliveries, their perfectly choreographed performances and their genuinely calmed appearance on stage.  But many overlook the fact that someone like Jobs was absolutely obsessed with rehearsal and repetition during practice.  

His preparation started many weeks before a keynote and often lasted for hours on end. If someone like Jobs’, with worldwide stage exposure and publicity, saw this kind of preparation as fundamental, how much more should you, who in all likelihood did not reinvent the definition of modern gadgetry!

Private Mistakes leads to Public Victories
The how-to of this is the easy part. Practice privately; days before your actual delivery, by letting your mirror have it! By that I mean you should go through your entire speech (with slides, props and everything else you’ll actually be having during the live presentation) aloud somewhere in the deep interior of your private bedroom or living room.  Sure enough, you’ll find the furniture snickering as you stumble over sentences and struggle to keep your eyes off your notes, but it sure beats having a live audience laugh at you.

Personally, as troubling as an initial private delivery is, I always find incredible improvement during a second, third and fourth go at it.  Once your mouth, brain and notes are in sync, things get simpler, the words come easier, and the sentences roll out in a smoother fashion.  That is of course exactly what you are after.

Henry Kissinger, the American statesmen was known as a spokesman with a quick mouth.  The more difficult the situation he was faced with, and the more tough the questions, the sharper and more direct his responses. Once, when asked about this by a curious reporter he gave a telling reply: “What Questions do you have for my answers?”  Kissinger understood the power of preparation, and so do all smart public speakers. Never go talking on stage before you’ve been practicing back-stage!

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