Speaker toolkit – part five: rehearsals

Do I really need to practice? This might be the most comment question (or complaint) we hear when coaching speakers!

Rehearse Rehearse Rehearse
It’s extremely rare to find people who don’t need to rehearse their talk. For the rest of us, we need the practice – just like how a musician, dancer or sports person would practice their craft. A lot of people resist practicing because they worry their talk will sound too rehearsed and unnatural. What is actually happening when a speaker sounds overly rehearsed or robotic is that they actually don’t know their material as well as they need to. To stop this from happening, you need to keep going!

When you are rehearsing, you’re aiming to know your talk so well that you can recite it whilst doing something else. A top tip we give TEDxLondon speakers is that you should know your talk as well as you know singing Happy Birthday. Once you know your content that well, you’ll no longer be focused on the order of the words or what comes next, so you won’t sound too rehearsed or unnatural. Instead, you can pay attention to your delivery – your tone, pace, volume, speed and also how you physically stand and move. All things you can’t do if you’re struggling to remember what comes next!

Ask for specific feedback
When you first start rehearsing, get someone you trust to listen to you and ask them for specific feedback on your content and structure. Ideally practicing with someone who can represent your audience is most effective – will they be experts or new to the material? This will help you get the right level of feedback. Here are some useful feedback questions you can ask, but feel free to think of your own:

  • Did I grab your attention right away?
  • Was anything confusing?
  • Were there any impossible leaps?
  • Did I lose you along the way?

Remember, when it’s getting close to your event, you do not want feedback about the main content of your speech – the time for big changes is over! At this stage, it’s all about small tweaks so that you can lock in the script and focus on delivery.

But my memory is like a sieve…
Not everyone will need to memorise their script or outline, but if you do, here are some tips for memorising your talk:

  • Record your talk and listen to it
  • Break it down into sections and memorise each part
  • Rehearse daily whenever you get a moment (in the shower, during your commute etc)
  • See if you can use slides or visuals to help you trigger what is coming next

Most importantly, don’t worry if you miss a word or phrase. Only you know what’s in your script, so the audience won’t notice any minor changes you make. If you’ve been been asked to speak with very little time to prepare, memorise your opening line, structure and closing line. This will ensure you start and end strong and make sense in the middle.

Good luck rehearsing and let us know how your practice goes!