My husband taught me this trick. It seemed counter-intuitive until I tried it.
Here’s what you do:
Stand in an empty room and start talking. Yes, even before you have an outline, script, or deck. This gets you to a verbal outline while testing how the words feel in your mouth. It lets you experiment. You’ll find the talking points. Because it’s not scripted, you aren’t memorizing lines as much as talking about what you know.
Repeat this process until you have the bones.
Rehearsing this way gives you that natural bounce great speakers have. You know, when it seems like they’re riffing and not regurgitating a stilted, prepared speech.
Create slides after rehearsing
Now you know what you want to say, start cranking out your deck.
People who read slides verbatim do not need to be giving talks. Let’s do better.
Your slides should complement your talk not depend on it.
- Less is more. One thought per slide.
- 7x7 rule (7 lines max with 7 words per line). The 6x6 or 5x5 rule is even better.
- Images should enhance the value of the slide. If it doesn’t, get it out of there.
- No gifs. Ever.
- Videos shouldn’t autoplay. There really shouldn’t be videos, either.
- Design-wise, consistency over dazzle.
- Dark fonts on a light-colored background for the win.
- The bigger the font the better, at least 36-point for headings and 22-point for body copy.
- No typos.
- Grayscale is a great gut check. Print your slides out in tones of gray to make sure you’re not relying on color alone to convey meaning.
Once you have the slides, rehearse again
And I don’t mean practice. I mean rehearse. Wear your game day outfit. Primp, shave, and fix your hair. Whatever it takes to feel like it’s the real thing, do it.
Pretend to hold a microphone and a clicker thing. Stand up. Find yourself pacing? Fine, roll with it. Do you fidget? No problem. Work your quirks into your routine instead of trying to overcome a lifetime of habits.
Get on a Zoom alone. Figure out where in your home the lighting’s best. Sit in front of a plain background. Find distraction-free spaces.
Whether you’re speaking in-person or virtually, it helps to have that visual reference to can catch anything you’ve become blind to.
Rehearse in front of humans
Listen to their feedback when they tell you what’s unclear or confusing, where it drags. Even if you’re presenting to experts in the field, novices should be able to come away with an understanding.
Check your inflection
Find that perfect middle. Don’t be monotone but don’t be a cartoon. If you find yourself doing either of these, then take a break. You’ve over-rehearsed.
Talk like you would to a friend, not someone you’re trying to impress.
This is all optional, but public speaking can be scary. For lots of us, it triggers that flight or fight response. Over-preparation can help mitigate those day-of jitters.
Remember, it’s cool to be human
Trust me when I say that something always goes wrong.
If you mess up, flub a word, or your slides break down, don’t panic. Talk about it. Your audience doesn’t want you to fail, and acknowledging awkwardness alleviates it.
You don’t have to be funny or witty. But being comfortable with improvisation, especially when things go wrong, is key to delivering a memorable speech.