Editor's note: This article is the third in a series on preparing and presenting the perfect speech. If you have questions or comments regarding this series of articles, join in on our inc.com discussions area.
How do I polish it?
Once you assemble your notes and write a draft of your speech (or you may prefer to speak your ideas into a tape recorder), you still have more work to do before delivering your speech. Read your draft over to confirm that it is:
Interesting After every point you make, ask yourself, "Who cares?" If you imagine no one does, edit it out.
On track Did you go off on a tangent that doesn't relate to your main theme? Edit it out.
Concise Are you redundant, saying the same thing three ways? Are there cliches like "without further ado," "that's a tough act to follow," etc.? Edit out all nonessential words and phrases.
Effective Are your supporting examples strong and on target? If not, replace them.
Personal Does it have a high I/You Factor? Be sure you've connected yourself with your audience by putting them into your speech. If your subject is financial planning, for example a low I/You Factor would be: "I always pay myself first. Not the recommended 10%. I save 20% of my gross income." Your audience would probably be rolling their eyes and thinking, "Yeah, right..." But if, instead, you said, "We're all hurting in this economy. That's why saving money is more important than ever. Your goal is to get something -- anything! -- out of each check. Sometimes I can manage to squeeze out up to 10%, but I know that even 1% is essential if I'm going to maintain the habit of paying myself first. That 1% is the difference between winning and losing." You've put your audience in your speech. Instead of scoffing, they are more likely to identify with what you're saying.
Politically correct Being "PC" is sometimes overdone, but it is essential. Consider the opening of an address by cartoonist Gary Trudeau at Yale: "...Distinguished faculty, graduating seniors, people of color, colorful people, people of height, the vertically challenged, people of hair, the differently coiffed, the optically challenged, the temporarily sighted, the insightful, the out of sight, the homeless, the home boys..." Trudeau was poking fun at political correctness, but if you don't use inclusive language, you may offend and lose part of your audience. The safest (and politest) thing is to call people what they want to be called. Refer to adult females as women. Say "physically challenged" rather than "disabled." Whether you're talking about managing employees or selling cars, your stories need to reflect a balance of male and female. Remember that not all doctors are "he's", not all nurses are "she's." Ask the program chair if there are any terms and phrases you should avoid or include.
Vigorous polishing makes your talk tighter, more powerful, and less likely to bore or irritate your audience.
How do I rehearse?
You've edited and fine-tuned a written version of your talk. Now you're going to practice it. (You may think this is too much trouble, but you'll be glad you did.)
Read your talk out loud. Read your written talk into a tape recorder to get some idea of timing and emphasis. When you are happy with it, go on to step 2.
Prepare outline notes. Even though you've just gone to a great deal of trouble to prepare a written speech, you're NOT going to read it! Nothing puts an audience to sleep faster. Instead, you're going to speak directly and spontaneously to the audience, maintaining essential eye contact. The secret is to prepare easy-to-read notes. Write your key points on a pad or card that you'll keep on the lectern or table. Use a felt tip pen or a large typeface on your laser printer. As you speak, follow your road map with quick glances. An easy-to-read wristwatch or small clock on the lectern lets you keep track of the time so that you can speed up or slow down, cut or add material, and finish on time.
Tape your "impromptu" talk. Again, check for timing. As you play back your tape, notice repetitive phrases and nonwords such as "er" and "ah." Try again, minus these distracting irritants, until you are speaking smoothly and confidently.
Practice in front of an audience. Ask one or two perceptive people for their feedback. Make it clear that you want constructive criticism, not just praise. Did they understand the points you were making? Was there a lack of logic or continuity? Did they think you spoke too quickly or slowly? Use their feedback to polish your presentation.
Now you're nearly ready to do your talk. You have one more task. Am I done writing now? No. Write your own introduction and bring a printed copy to your talk. Even if you're speaking for free, you want the emcee to pronounce your name right, mention your company's name, and tell people how to get in touch with you. You want all attention on you, so you don't need an introducer who rambles on or tells tired jokes.
If you're not sure what to say about yourself, use your ré sumé as a guide, customized to fit your topic. If you've earned or been honored with impressive designations or awards, let the introducer say so. But don't include your job as a lifeguard in your intro unless it directly relates to your subject. Don't leave anything to chance. If you're working on a stage, explain to the introducer that you'll come on stage from the wings before he/she leaves the lectern. The introducer needs to get off the stage before the audience stops applauding.
This way, the audience looks at you instead of the emcee. You've taken center stage -- now take it away!
Patricia Fripp is a San Francisco-based executive speech coach and professional speaker on change, teamwork, customer service,promoting business, and communication skills. She isthe author of Make It, So You Don't Have to Fake It and Get What You Want! Fripp also served as president of the National Speakers Association. She can be contacted via e-mail, at 800-634-3035, or through her Web site Fripp.com.