How to prepare for that big presentation? It’s at once an intellectual, emotional, and kinesthetic activity. It has a lot of moving parts. Here’s a quick program to carry out before each speech that will get you in peak form.
1. The Intellectual. Every speech has an intellectual ‘spine’ – the basic ideas that you’ll discuss during the course of the speech. You should know what those are. In order. If you don’t, figure them out. If you do, then run over those in your mind before your speech. Think of it as the outline, and in an hour-long speech it shouldn’t consist of more than about 10 headings, give or take a few. If you’re coming up with a lot more than that, you’re going into too much detail for this activity.
This way, you’ll know the intellectual journey you’re taking the audience on and you’ll be more likely not to get lost. If you know where you are, the audience will too.
Finish this little activity by getting your first couple of lines in your head, so you don’t go blank when you first walk out on stage. That’s a trick that actors use for opening night, and it helps get you through the beginning jitters.
2. The emotional. A speech is also an emotional journey, and you need to get that into your head (and gut) before you start, as well. So spend a moment thinking to yourself, how do I feel about the material I’m discussing? Excited? Passionate? Angry? Try to experience that feeling, however you bring it to mind. Recall a time when you felt that way strongly, or just focus on the feeling. The point is to get into the emotional state you need so that you’ll telegraph that to the audience when you begin.
3. The kinesthetic. Finally, you are a physical being delivering sounds in space to other physical beings, so pay attention to the state of your body. If you’re nervous, that’s a good thing – that’s adrenaline helping you be on your best game. It will help you think a little faster, stand a little straighter, act a little larger than life.
But not too much. If you’re quite nervous, or if the effects of adrenaline cause you to wander around the stage, or gesture like a windmill, or speak too fast for human ears to understand, then you need to practice some deep belly breathing before you start. That will calm you, and if you practice it regularly, give you a consistent confidence over time. Belly breathing starts, not surprisingly, in the belly. You should expand your stomach like the bulb of an eye dropper as you take air into your lungs. Hold the air with your diaphragmatic muscles (the ones just underneath your rib cage) and let it out slowly as you exhale. Remember to breathe occasionally as you speak, too!
Paying attention to these 3 aspects of speaking just before you start will greatly increase the quality of your art. Don’t neglect any of them; they work together to make up the performance art that is public speaking.