It's a household word: - preparation is key. But how do we prepare ourselves?
The first thing I want to say is - we have to find out what works best for ourselves. Whatever I will say might be relevant to you now - or not - so just pick up what helps and forget about the rest!
A long time ago, when I was just beginning to get on stage to tell stories, I was very nervous. So I learned by heart, at "Happy Birthday" level. When you sing "Happy Birthday..." you know the lyrics so well that you can sing and do other things at the same time - like filming the birthday girl blowing out the candles, waving at a latecomer, etc - without losing the thread.
To learn that well costs time and energy.
The good news is that if we have written down the text, it represents our logic and style so it is easier to remember.
Learning by searching actively for connections between the different elements of our speech is the way adults learn best. Children have a strong automatic memory, but adults need to structure mentally to improve their memory performances.
In the writing process, the first draft usually becomes much better after cutting out about half of it. For instance, in this newsletter's first draft, the previous sentence was followed by a full paragraph of explanations!
Of course, the speech needs to be well-structured, with a single and clear purpose and obvious transitions between its parts.
A general principle is: 1. Introduction: Tell them what you are going to tell them 2. Development: Tell them 3. Conclusion: Remind them of what you have just told them
So I invested a lot of time and energy in getting to know my stories at Happy Birthday level, and I knew not only my text, but my intonations, my silences, when I would make a face, etc.
And thanks to all this hard work, I accumulated success and felt more and more confident.
But then I met purists of the art of story telling who said: "What you do is not real story telling! You shouldn't say anything by heart! A real story teller knows the general structure of his story and improvises the details as he goes along!"
This concept can also apply to public speaking, especially when we don't have enough time to prepare at Happy Birthday level (as they would ask us to do if it was a TED talk).
When we know our subject well enough to trust ourselves - and when we have had enough experience of public speaking to know we can handle our nerves - we can take more risks and succeed.
I have done a few speeches recently without writing anything apart from a general structure made up of key words.
I rehearsed in my head waking up in the morning or walking in the street. I started to prepare one or two weeks in advance - so that new ideas or better ways to express them could come up.
Once on stage, I had just a few notes at hand as a safety net but I didn't use them and I improvised, knowing only a simple structure by heart.
In music that's what jazz musicians do.
This way allows you to give a conversational tone to the speech and to answer questions as you go along. The result might be a little bit messier but it's also livelier.
I love rehearsing mentally and this leads me to one last big point - you should love giving the speech in your imagination.
Audiences feel how we feel when we speak and if we love talking to them, they will love being talked to!
Updates: The next Organic Speaking workshops in Willesden Green (North West London) are scheduled on Sundays evening, every other week, possibly more according to demand. There are a few free tickets to grab. (First timers only) Find out here