You’re going to be standing at that podium for 45 minutes, looking into the faces of all those people who have paid to come out to this event and hear you speak. You have to fill that time. You have to sound professional. And most of all, you want to be effective for God.
But how do you practice so that the talk goes well? Yesterday we were talking about how to PREPARE–how to get the talk written and get yourself in the right frame of mind to deliver it. But now let’s talk about the actual practicing of it.
Identify the “Tricky Bits” in Your Talk
I think of practicing a talk a lot like practicing piano. When my girls were studying piano, they learned quickly that the way to master a piece is not to play through the whole piece, over and over. It was to identify the tricky bits and go over them, over and over, and only then put the whole thing together.
So what are those tricky bits?
There tend to be four areas you simply must have down cold:
- Your introduction
- Your conclusion
- Your anecdotes
- Your transitions
Practice the Introduction
To a certain extent you can’t have this completely written before you get there, because in the first minute or so that you’re speaking, I firmly recommend bonding with the audience by commenting on something that has just happened–how pretty the decorations are, how amazing Judy was at that skit, whatever. If you can tie in something about your own biography with something that they’ve all just been laughing about, that’s a bonus.
But the main introduction–the way that you segueway into your topic–is so important, because that’s where you capture people’s attention.
2. Practice Your Conclusion
There have been times when I’ve given my whole talk, and it’s gone marvelously well, and I’ve had people laughing and crying, and then I realize: I don’t know how to end this powerfully. I probably should have stopped 2 minutes ago. I’m making worse by just going on and on!
But the more you think that, the more you tend to go on and on and dig a bigger hole for yourself.
So know how you’re going to wrap up. Wrap up quickly, right after you’ve really hammered a powerful point home. And know exactly what you’re going to say in this section, because this is what they’ll hear right before you invite them to pray or to respond. Here’s where you’ll issue your challenge: what do you want people to do now? So make sure you can say it succinctly and powerfully.
If you’re having trouble figuring out how to conclude well, and how to end on a high note, my audio download Crafting a Signature Talk will help you plan your talk so that it’s natural–and powerful.
3. Recite Anecdotes
I’m a firm believer that telling stories helps people “own” the message, because they enter into it with you. And everybody loves a good story! Even if it’s only a minute and a half, putting in an anecdote here and there makes your talk more real. And all kinds of things can become fodder for anecdotes! I use the plotline of both Anne of Green Gables and Finding Nemo quite frequently. I use something silly my youngest daughter said to me when she was 4. I use stories from nature. But they help perk up people’s ears.
When you’re delivering an anecdote, you don’t want to be looking down at your notes. People are engaged at this point; they’re looking you in the eyes. Don’t lose that eye contact! It’s a story–your story–and you can tell it without having to read it, if you practice it. These are often the most powerful moments in a talk, so make sure that you know HOW you’re going to deliver it.
When will you pause for dramatic effect? What gestures will you use? When you’re telling a story and you won’t be reading from notes, a good tactic to use is to step away from the podium. That automatically relaxes people–“oh, this will be interesting because she isn’t using notes”–and you can use more body language.
So practice these stories, inside and out.
4. Smooth Out Your Transitions
The part of the talk where I often trip over myself is the transitions. If you’re moving between points, or you’re moving from teaching to application, do you know how to do it smoothly?
A transition links the last thought to the next thought so that it’s seamless. It shows people, “there’s a train of thought here that runs through the whole talk, leading naturally to this next bit.” In many talks, that’s what’s missing. You hear someone give three points, but they don’t seem to go together.
You should be able to sum up your whole talk in 1-2 sentences. That’s your train of thought. And everything should flow into that. If you can work on your transitions, then you will sound so much more polished, and people will be able to follow where you’re trying to take them.
How Do You Actually Practice the Whole Talk?
Once you’ve got your anecdotes down, your intro and conclusion, and your transitions, it’s time to put it all together! A lot of people don’t do this–they figure, as long as I’ve got it written out, I’m fine. But you’re not. You have to say it out loud or you won’t realize where little things don’t actually fit into your overall plan. You’ll realize what sticks out like a sore thumb.
And when you say it out loud, you’ll realize where you have to pause, and where you have to pray, and where you have to give people time to respond. You’ll realize the natural “flow” of the talk which won’t come until you hear it. A talk, after all, is meant to be heard.
So practice it, word for word. I have to admit (and sorry if this is TMI), but I often do this in the bathtub. I take my notes and a timer, and I say the whole thing. People don’t bug me when I’m in the bathroom, and I’m not as self-conscious talking to myself in there as I would be pacing in my bedroom.
The timer is important to make sure that you actually do fit the time given you.
So I practice the anecdotes in front of a mirror, but the whole talk it’s okay to do somewhere else–as long as you say the whole thing through.
Practice as You Drive
Then, as you’re on your way, go over your talk out loud. You won’t have your notes (you’ll be driving!), but you can say your intro again, you can recite an anecdote, you can try to figure out the words you’ll use for the prayer.
Once you’ve given the talk multiple times, you won’t have to do this kind of practice anymore. It will be second nature. But the first time through, don’t skimp on the practice! It will make all the difference to your confidence, your delivery, and your effectiveness.
I’ll be doing a seminar soon on how to become more polished up on stage. Sign up for my speakers’ newsletter to make sure you hear when we’re ready to go!