Speech practice guide: Perfect your public speaking skills

Public speaking is a crucial skill that can significantly impact your personal and professional life.

Whether you're delivering a work presentation, giving a speech at a conference or speaking at a wedding, your ability to communicate effectively can make all the difference.

However, even the most experienced speakers can feel nervous when facing an audience. 

The key to overcoming these feelings and delivering a powerful speech lies in practice.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore the importance of practicing your speech, provide actionable tips for effective practice and help you hone your public speaking skills.

Why practice a speech?

Practicing your speech is crucial for several reasons:

  • Builds confidence: The more you practice, the more confident you'll feel when delivering your speech.
  • Improves delivery: Practice helps you refine your pacing, tone and emphasis, making your delivery more engaging and impactful.
  • Identifies areas for improvement: As you practice, you'll identify sections of your speech that need refinement or clarification.
  • Reduces anxiety: Knowing your speech reduces the fear of forgetting or stumbling over your words.
  • Enhances audience engagement: A well-practiced speech lets you focus on connecting with your audience rather than worrying about your content.

How much should you practice your speech?

How much practice you need varies depending on factors such as: 

  • the length and complexity of your speech, 
  • your familiarity with the topic and 
  • your level of public speaking experience. 

As a general rule, practice your speech 3–5 times before delivering it. However, if you're new to public speaking or it’s a particularly important speech, you may want to practice even more.

Practicing your delivery

Practice your speech out loud

One of the most effective ways to practice your speech is to say it out loud. 

Reading your speech silently or in your head won't give you the same benefits as actually speaking the words. When you practice out loud, you'll be able to:

  • hear how your words sound and adjust your pacing and emphasis,
  • identify any tongue twisters or awkward phrases to revise and
  • become more comfortable with your speech’s flow and rhythm.

Find a peaceful space where you can speak without interruptions. As you practice, focus on speaking clearly, varying your tone and using appropriate pauses for emphasis.

Practice your speech with a lectern

If you're using a lectern during your speech, it's essential to practice with one. A podium can affect your posture, gestures and eye contact with the audience. 

When practicing with a lectern:

  • stand up straight and avoid leaning on the lectern,
  • keep your notes or script at eye level to avoid looking down,
  • print your speech in large font so you can read it easily and
  • practice making eye contact with an imaginary audience.

If you don't have access to a lectern, you can use a music stand or a tall table as a substitute.

Practice your speech with an audience

Practicing your speech in front of an audience can help you gauge their reactions and adjust accordingly. 

Ask friends, family members or colleagues to listen to your speech and provide feedback:

  • Can you hear me?
  • Is my voice clear? 
  • Do I sound robotic?
  • Am I moving naturally?

When practicing with an audience:

  • observe their body language and engagement level,
  • note any points where they seem confused or disinterested and 
  • ask for specific feedback on your content, delivery and visual aids

If you can't access a live audience, consider practicing in front of a mirror or recording yourself to simulate the experience.

Practice your speech for time

Timing is a critical aspect of delivering an effective speech. Use a timer to ensure you stay within the allotted time frame. 

When practicing for time:

  • set a timer for the length of your speech,
  • map out how much time you want for each section,
  • speak at a natural, conversational pace,
  • note any sections where you need to speed up or slow down and
  • leave time for questions and answers, if applicable.

If you find yourself constantly running over time, try to condense your content or remove less essential points. For example, your introduction should be shorter than the main body of your speech. And double-check if you really need that slightly related anecdote.

A 5-to-7-minute speech is approximately 750 words. Use this number to see if you need to tighten up your word count. 

Practice your speech by recording yourself

Audio recording yourself is a useful way to learn your speech. 

Listen to the speech in your spare time, while you run, drive or do the dishes to become one with your speech. This can make you sound much more natural when it’s time to speak.

Recording yourself with your smartphone, camera or computer provides valuable insights into your delivery and helps you identify areas for improvement. 

When reviewing the recording:

  • observe your body language, gestures and eye contact,
  • listen for any filler words like "um," "like" and "you know" or distracting mannerisms and
  • note any sections where your delivery seems flat or rushed.

Focus on these observations in your next practice sessions.

Practice nonverbal delivery

Your nonverbal communication, including eye contact, gestures and movement, can be just as important as your words. 

When practicing your speech, pay attention to these critical elements of nonverbal delivery:

Eye contact

Maintaining eye contact with your audience establishes a connection and conveys confidence. When practicing eye contact:

  • imagine making eye contact with individual audience members,
  • try making a point, looking at someone, making another point and looking at someone else,
  • hold eye contact for 3–5 seconds before moving to another person and
  • avoid staring at a single point or letting your gaze wander aimlessly.

Gestures

Gestures can add emphasis and visual interest to your speech. For impactful gestures:

  • use purposeful, natural gestures that complement your words,
  • avoid repetitive or distracting gestures like fidgeting with your hands and
  • practice using a variety of gestures throughout your speech.

Some examples of effective gestures include:

  • using your hands to show size, shape or direction,
  • holding up fingers to list points and
  • using open palms to convey honesty or transparency.

Movement

Strategic movement can engage your audience and add dynamism to your delivery:

  • plan purposeful movements to enhance your message (e.g., walking to a different part of the stage to signal a new point),
  • avoid pacing or swaying, which can be distracting and
  • practice moving smoothly and naturally.

Vary your tone of voice

Your tone of voice can convey emotion, emphasize key points and engage your audience. When practicing your speech, experiment with varying your tone by:

  • adjusting your pitch (high or low),
  • changing your volume (loud or soft) and
  • altering your pace (fast or slow).

For example, you might speak softly and slowly to create a sense of intimacy or anticipation, then quicken your pace and raise your volume to convey excitement or urgency. 

Practicing these variations can help you deliver a more dynamic and engaging speech.

Tips for effective presentation practice

Identify the key concepts of the presentation

Before practicing your entire speech, note the key concepts you want your audience to take away. These should form the backbone of your speech and guide your practice sessions. 

To identify key concepts:

  • review your speech outline or script,
  • highlight the main ideas or arguments,
  • consider what you want the audience to think, feel or do and
  • condense each key point into a clear, concise statement.

Focusing on these key concepts ensures your practice sessions are specific and effective.

Use visual cues to remember key points

Visual cues, such as images or text on your slides, can help you remember key points and stay on track during your speech. 

When practicing with visual cues:

  • associate each key point with a specific image or slide,
  • practice transitioning smoothly between slides and
  • use visual cues as prompts to expand on your key points.

Remember, your slides aren’t a crutch — they should complement your speech.

Practice using slides and explaining their content

If you'll be using slides during your speech, it's essential to practice integrating them seamlessly into your delivery:

  • familiarize yourself with the slide content and order,
  • practice explaining each slide clearly and concisely,
  • limit the amount of text on each slide and
  • avoid reading directly from your slides.

Practice tricky parts of the speech 

As you practice your speech, certain sections may flow smoothly while others consistently trip you up. 

To make the most of your practice time, focus on the parts of your speech that need the most improvement:

  • identify the specific words, phrases or transitions that are causing difficulty,
  • consider changing words or sentences to create ease in your delivery,
  • practice these sections repeatedly until you feel comfortable and confident and
  • gradually integrate these sections back into your full speech practice.

Knowing when you are ready to present

Feeling nervous or unsure about whether you're fully prepared to deliver your speech is normal. Some signs that you're ready include:

  • you can deliver your speech smoothly without relying heavily on notes,
  • you feel confident in your ability to engage and connect with your audience and
  • you've practiced your speech several times and have made targeted improvements.

Now you’re ready with your speech, how else can you prepare?

Pre-check the venue, podium and microphone

If possible, visit the venue where you'll be speaking ahead of time. Familiarize yourself with the space, podium and microphone setup. 

While pre-checking the venue:

  • practice using the microphone and adjusting its height or position,
  • test the audio and visual equipment to ensure everything is working properly and
  • get a feel for the room's acoustics and layout.

Being familiar with your speaking environment can help you feel more comfortable and confident on the day of your speech.

Study other public speakers

Observing and learning from successful public speakers can provide valuable insights and inspiration for your practice. 

To study other speakers:

  • watch videos of speeches or attend live events,
  • take note of the speaker's delivery techniques, such as pacing, tone and gestures and
  • observe how the speaker engages and connects with their audience.

Studying successful public speakers can help you identify techniques to include in your speech

The last card

Mastering your public speaking skills requires dedication, practice and a willingness to learn and improve. 

Implementing effective practice techniques and focusing on your verbal and nonverbal deliver can ensure you become a confident and impactful speaker.

Remember to identify and focus on your speech's key concepts, use visual aids effectively and target your problem areas during practice. 

At Pip Decks, we understand the importance of effective communication and presentation skills. Our resources and tools can help anyone improve their public speaking abilities and deliver impactful messages.

With dedication and practice, you can unlock your full potential and make a lasting impact on your audience.

FAQs

How can I practice my speech every day?

Incorporating speech practice into your daily routine can help you continuously improve your skills. 

Some ways to practice every day include:

  • recording yourself delivering short speeches or presentations,
  • audio recording speeches to listen to them to learn the content,
  • practicing tongue twisters or vocal exercises to improve articulation,
  • participating in public speaking clubs or workshops and
  • speaking in front of others, such as at work meetings or community events.

Making speech practice a daily habit can build your confidence and refine your skills over time.

Will practicing a speech help a speaker?

Yes, practicing a speech is essential for helping a speaker improve their delivery and impact. Regular practice can help a speaker:

  • become more familiar and comfortable with their content,
  • identify and address problem areas or stumbling blocks,
  • refine their pacing, tone and emphasis,
  • develop effective nonverbal communication techniques and
  • boost their confidence and reduce anxiety.

The more you practice, the more polished and impactful your speech will be, allowing you to connect with your audience.


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