Here are ten things that I wish I’d have known before I started speaking.
- Use Toastmasters to write your keynote: I joined Toastmasters because I wanted to be a better, more polished speaker. As I completed the first manual, the Competent Communicator manual, I realized I had made a grave mistake. I wrote and delivered 11 speeches that were designed to entertain my Toastmasters club. I should have used each of those speeches to write one segment of my keynote. That would have been a better investment of time.
- Give the same speech as many times as possible: Back to Toastmasters. I gave each speech there only once. Huge mistake. The point of Toastmasters is stage time. You don’t have to treat your Toastmasters club to a new, entertaining speech. That isn’t the point. The point is to improve. The best speakers you will ever see will have you believe they are delivering their material for the first time. But in actuality, they’ve given the speech dozens—if not hundreds—of times before. It looks fresh because they’re professional enough to rehearse.
- Write every word of every speech: I missed my calling. I should have been a late night talk show host. I love to riff with people. I get a chance to do some of that in workshops. But just because you can speak extemporaneously doesn’t mean that you should. If you are giving a speech, write that speech. Rehearse every word. Memorize it backwards and forwards. Don’t worry about delivering it as precisely as you’ve written it; you won’t. But the fact that you have such great command of the material will allow you to bring in new ideas and real time events as you see fit. I spent too much time speaking off the cuff.
- Fearlessly tell your story: You have a story. You don’t think it’s a great story because you were there when it happened. We weren’t there, so we only get to live that experience with you if you share it with us. I used to think it was selfish to tell my story. But I learned that your story is what connects you to your audience. It also builds the foundation for the ideas that you share.
- Rehearse standing up: I used to rehearse my speech only in my head. I still do a lot of visualization before I speak. I go through the whole thing in my head. But I also go through the physical motions standing up. Rehearsing standing up, going through the physical motions, builds it into your nervous system. It also makes it way easier to memorize your speech.
- Record your rehearsal: This one is going to sting a little. Record yourself giving your speech. I used to hate to hear my recorded voice. But if you want to know what your speech is going to sound like to your audience, you need to record it. I record every keynote before I deliver it. I usually record it straight into my computer so I can move it to my iPhone and listen to them later.
- Your body language matters as much as your words: You can always tell how confident a speaker is by how they move. Unconfident speakers cover their genitals with both hands (I know, I know, but it’s true). Or they have trouble figuring out what to do with their arms. They hold their arms in front of them like a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It took me a long to time to learn to stand with arms at my sides. It also took me a long time to figure out how to figure out where to be and what to do with myself on a big stage.
- Your audience wants you to set them free: They are there for the experience. They want to be educated. They want to be entertained. They want to be enthusiastic. And they want to participate. I wish I’d have know sooner how true this is. The more real, authentic, and free you are, the more you give you audience permission to be real, authentic, and free. They want to give you their energy, but you have to help the release it.
- Hang around when you speak: I’ve always been pretty good about hanging around. But I see a lot of speakers show up right before they go on and disappear as soon as they’re done. If you hang around, you learn. You get to listen to other speakers. You get to listen to what other people have to say. You can learn a lot about speaking, and you can learn a lot about the organization to which you’re speaking.
- Watch the videos. Every time.: It burns! It burns! You have to watch the videos. I used to hate it. Here’s what I learned. When I thought I was giving tons of energy, it wasn’t even showing up as a blip from the audience’s view. When I thought I was being outrageous, it showed up as mildly energetic. You will not do anything that improves your speaking faster than watching yourself on video and making adjustments. I still do this. And I still don’t smile enough.