Why is it that so many individuals tell me they are totally comfortable when speaking one-on-one or to a small group, but they freeze, get sick to their stomach and completely dread standing before a larger audience?

I believe it’s because at some unconscious level, we think public speaking is a totally natural endeavor and it should not require any preparation. After all, our mouth knows exactly what to do when we open it to talk with our co-workers, clients, fellow club members, clerks in a store, teachers and family members. No rehearsal required!

We all have seen great presenters who keep their audience engaged at all times. In contrast, when it’s our turn, we wonder what talent these outstanding speakers possess that we didn’t seem to get at birth or acquire while growing up.

A woman sitting at a table with papers and a laptop.

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A man in suit and tie standing at the front of a room.

It takes much more than the right words to be a successful speaker

Who are the most successful and highest paid athletes you follow? You know that they spend hours and hours practicing to make their passes and moves look effortless. Similarly, professional actors and actresses rehearse every line and related movement for hours and hours to appear totally natural – in live theater and on camera. 

Simply put, to become a great public speaker, winging it won’t work. It takes a dedication to honing your craft, in the same way that the highly touted athletes, movie stars, musicians and other artists you admire have done.

For public speaking to be truly effective, it requires a series of thoughtful steps to ready your message itself, and then a commitment to practice extensively, not mere lip service to the requirement, no pun intended.

How much practice?

How much practice? I usually recommend at least 2 hours for every one minute of your message. The time goes up or down depending on your knowledge of the topic and your experience level in speaking. Whenever I create a new presentation, even after all these years, I rehearse for hours and hours.

I also urge you to practice your presentation in pieces, out of order, so as not to become robotic-sounding. For instance, try the close first. Then tackle a main point from the body, followed by the opening. Decide what hand motions and other gestures will add to your performance and help you connect to the audience. Keep going until you’ve worked on every part successfully.

The off-stage, behind-the-scenes work a great speaker does is not glamorous. It’s often tedious and time consuming. But the rewards that come with well-beyond-the-ordinary public speaking make it all worthwhile.


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