Rehearsing your speech before delivery removes unexpected surprises such as tongue twisters © Shutterstock

The secret formula behind the best talks: delivery rehearsal
Preparing to bring content to life, through focusing on how to say it
1 May 2024

Leadership speaking is a performing art and just like theater, dance and music, there is an intrinsic formula behind every performance. This secret blueprint is the key to creating high quality content, which is performed with a memorable delivery. In this article, I want to reveal the second part of the performing arts formula for how to prepare the best talks: delivery rehearsal.

For actors, dancers and musicians, this second phase is about rehearsing the delivery of their scripts, choreography and scores. For speakers, this phase is about bringing the content to life by focusing on how to say it. Here are three compelling ways to breathe meaning into your words:

1. Play with your voice

To speak so that people want to listen to what you have to say, play with your voice. Explore the outer limits of what your voice can do by experimenting with different ways to speak your text. Play with volume by alternating the loudness and the softness of your voice depending on the mood you want to create for your listeners. Modulate the speed of your speaking by toggling between speaking quickly and speaking slowly. The rate that you choose will depend on what you are talking about. For example, if you are sharing information about something that is happy and joyful, consider saying it quickly. Fast speaking correlates with the emotions of excitement and joy. If on the other hand your content is about something serious or sad, try saying it slower to convey these different emotions. Finally, play with pausing, one of the most powerful oratory tools in any speaker’s repertory. As a general rule, a pause before a statement is made creates anticipation and curiosity and a pause afterwards underlines the point and engages the audience, inviting their thoughts and observations. Bring gravitas to your content by pausing often.

2. Move with purpose

In a great talk, movement is never random, it has been staged to support the message. You may have seen speakers who walk aimlessly all over the place, leaking energy from their feet and from their legs and arms as they speak. They are a whirlwind of movement and as the audience, it is difficult to keep track of where they are going, why they are moving there and what their movement has to do with their message.

Just as a theatrical director or a choreographer considers what areas of the stage a performer should use to make the strongest impact on the audience, so should you. Move with purpose, using the different areas of your speaking area to reach your audience on as many levels as possible. For example, if you want to create an intimate effect, move closer to the audience; if you want to make an important point, move to center stage; and if you want to grab the audience’s attention and ‘own’ the stage, use the ‘power position’ closest to the audience, just in front of center stage. Be mindful, however, that wherever you move in your speaking area, be careful not to choreograph your movements. This can make them seem stiff and artificial. Instead, let the subject, your intuition and the natural energy of your content lead you to different parts of the stage.

3. Rehearse!

The more that you rehearse, the more your content becomes a part of you. This fact is every performing artist’s secret to success. Here are a few suggestions to help you to rehearse like a pro:

• Timeframe – be generous with the time that you budget to rehearse your talk. Waiting until the day before or the day itself is too late; you will be unprepared. The length and the complexity of the talk should determine how much you will need to rehearse it. For example, for a ten-minute talk on a subject that you are familiar with, practice beginning about three days before should suffice. For a 45-minute talk on a less familiar subject, rehearsals should start up to three or four weeks in advance, rehearsing several times a day.

• ‘Stage’ your practice environment – the closer your rehearsal surroundings are to the actual conditions that you will face, the better prepared you will be. If you know that you will be presenting in an auditorium and standing behind a podium for example, find a practice space that has an open area, move furniture to create audience rows and use a chair or a table as a podium.

• Always practice out loud – no amount of repetition inside of your head can replace actual, out-loud practice. By using your voice, articulating your words and hearing yourself speak, you become more comfortable with the tone of your voice and the content of your talk. Hearing yourself speak also gives you the opportunity to discover any hidden problems with your text such as unintended tongue twisters.

This article has explored the steps that you can take to prepare the delivery rehearsal of your speaking performances. You now know that playing with your voice, moving with purpose and rehearsing are the keys to successfully delivering your content. In a future article, we will delve into the third and final part of the performing arts formula, which is how to warm-up before speaking. Until then, keep saying ‘yes’ to every speaking opportunity that comes your way so that you can keep developing your content creation and delivery rehearsal skills, because the more that you do the work, the better you’ll get. 

* Dr. Laura Penn is the Founder of The Leadership Speaking School. She is a master teacher in the speaking arts and an international authority on business communication.
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