How to prepare for a speech – 3 easy steps
If you’re planning on giving a speech, you might find it helpful to mentally prepare before getting onstage. Whether you’re presenting to five or fifty people, organizing your thoughts before speaking will help your speech be successful. Master your nerves by focusing on breathing deeply and set yourself up for success by getting a good night’s rest!
Separate your speech into sections. Many speeches only present two or three main points. First, define these main points. Then, spend the majority of the time diving into details, providing additional facts, and convincing the audience of your main points.
- Separating your speech into sections not only makes it easier to follow, but also makes it easier to remember!
Turn your speech into a story. Storytelling is a great way to remember something because every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you lose your place, knowing the “story” of your speech can help you find it again!
- If possible, turn your entire speech into one story, and tell yourself you’ll be telling this story to the audience. For example, if your speech is about diabetes, see if you can frame your speech so you follow a day in the life of someone with diabetes. If that doesn’t fit your structure, try telling the life story of someone who got diagnosed, started treatment, and now lives with diabetes daily.
Memorize facts if you don’t have much time to prepare. Trying to memorize your speech word-for-word in a short period of time is nearly impossible! If you don’t have much time, focus on memorizing facts, and organizing those facts into a logical flow. Once you get up onstage, transform those facts into sentences.
- For example, if you’re giving a speech about flight patterns over the United States, memorize how many planes are in the air at any given time, what the largest airports are, and how much money the top 5 airlines make per year.
- Organize your memorized facts into a logical chronology, but don’t worry about memorizing the exact sentence you need to say in order to present your information.
Organize your information into categories if you have to give a speech about a wide variety of topics. If your speech topic contains many sub-topics, try associating each category of information with a single word or phrase. Then, when you get to a part of your speech, or if someone in the audience asks you a question, use that word to remember the relevant facts and information!
- For example, if you’re giving a speech about the species in the Everglades National Park, organize your facts into various categories depending on the animal species. That way, when someone in the audience asks you about birds of prey in the Everglades, you can recall the relevant information quickly and present it smoothly.
Practice in front of a mirror to smooth out any kinks. Give your speech to yourself in front of a mirror at least once before you present it to the public. This can help you notice if anything doesn’t make sense or flow logically, and it can also help you start developing the hand gestures and posture you’ll use during the speech.
Create a contingency plan. You might be nervous about giving a speech because you keep imagining something going wrong. If that’s the case, work through what you might do if something did go wrong. Walk through how you might give your speech without your PowerPoint, or how you might find your train of thought if you lose it.
- For example, if you’re worried that you’ll lose your train of thought, spend some time running over your speech structure. That way, if you do actually lose your train of thought while giving your speech, you’ll know what comes next, and you’ll be able to get back on track!
Mastering your nerves
Take deep breaths before going onstage. Taking a deep breath can help your body relax. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and then breathe out through your mouth for four seconds. Focus the way your stomach feels as you breathe, and close your eyes for a more relaxing experience.
- You can also put your hands on your stomach and focus on the feeling of them rising and falling as you breathe.
Release nervous energy before presenting. Flex your calves and ball up your fists to get rid of the adrenaline going through your body. If you start to shake while presenting, place your hands at your sides or, if possible, center yourself with the podium.
Stand confidently with your feet shoulder-width apart. If you stand with your feet too close together, you might find yourself swaying or off-balance, which won’t help with your confidence! Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and center yourself while you speak.
- You can also try a power pose before going onstage to boost your confidence. For an easy power pose, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands on your hips, like superman. Hold the position for several seconds before relaxing into a more natural stance.
Don’t panic if you lose your train of thought. Everyone loses their train of thought at one point or another, so it’s ok if you do too! The most important thing to remember is not to panic. Instead, take a moment to collect your thoughts, focus on what you just said, and try to pick up where you left off.
- Even if it doesn’t seem that way when you’re onstage, a collected pause seems more put-together than trying to rush to say something to fill the silence.
Don’t aim for perfection. If you want your speech to be perfect, you’ll be setting the stakes unnecessarily high and, more likely than not, you’ll fail to meet your expectations. That’s not because you can’t give an incredible speech, but because there are many aspects of your speech that will be outside of your control! Instead, focus on doing your best, preparing well, and executing your speech as well as you can.
Setting yourself up for success
Practice in the space you’ll be speaking, if possible. If this is an important presentation, and if speeches make you nervous, try spending some time in the venue or location where you’ll be expected to give your speech. Even if you can’t give your speech, recite it mentally while staring at an imaginary “audience” to help prepare for the big day!
- If your speech requires any equipment, like microphones or projectors, make sure you test the equipment beforehand so you know how to operate it!
Eat and sleep enough the night before. If you’re giving a speech while tired or on an empty stomach, you won’t perform as well as you can. Make sure you set yourself up for success by sleeping, eating a well-balanced, nutritious meal, and drinking plenty of water beforehand.
- If you drink water before your speech, make sure you use the restroom before getting up in front of a crowd!
Dress for success. What you wear to your speech depends on the situation in which you’re giving your speech. If you’re giving your speech in a business setting, make sure you’re wearing professional but comfortable clothes. If your speech is more relaxed, try wearing jeans or a soft shirt.
- Avoid wearing graphic t-shirts or distracting patterns even if your speech is very informal, since this can distract the audience.
Imagine the best-case scenario as you wait to give your speech. The time right before you give your speech is often the most stressful. Instead of trying to cram information, take this time to relax your nerves and imagine a scenario where everything goes perfectly. Focus on sights, sounds, feelings, and even smells if possible. This type of visualization can help give you the confidence you need to rock your performance today!
- If you’ve previously given great speeches, think back to those times. Don’t worry so much about what you did “right” or “wrong,” but instead focus on the feeling of doing well and succeeding while speaking.
Avoid negative self-talk before you get onstage. Instead of thinking “I’m going to fail” or even “I’m so nervous,” focus on channeling your emotions into positive phrases. If you’re nervous, say “I can do this.” If you’re not sure you’ll be able to remember everything, think “I’ve spent time memorizing the info and I know my stuff!”