Speech Preparation, Practice & Rehearsal

Girl seeing success in Word Balloon

There’s preparation, practice and rehearsal. Preparing involves putting your ideas together. Practicing is developing your speech actively and verbally. Rehearsal is presenting your final version over and over again to memorise all aspects of your speech. Whether you are a sports person, a musician or speaker, you know that you need a lot of preparation, practice and rehearsal to perform at your best. Like a singer, a speaker connects with an audience if they have done the practice and rehearsal. It doesn’t mean you can’t ad-lib or stray from the script. But there’s a big difference between winging it and knowing your speech. Nevertheless, you need to be in the moment.

Rehearsal & Practice Tips

Film Clap with Rehearsal written on it
Rehearsal & Writing

Over the years I have changed the way I write my speeches, as you’ll see is related to rehearsal. I collect ideas, topics and points that I want to include. Then I talk about them and add those words to the script. Each time I practice my speech things change and I have a pen ready to modify the script. This way the speech grows organically. It allows me form a script that I can present conversationally. That is, it’s written for the ears and the eyes as opposed just the eyes when writing a book. That is you need to be speaking one on one, virtually having intimate conversation. Or as one person said, speaking is a number of serial conversations.

Speaking to an Audience

Man Addressing a Large Audience

When you’re rehearsing, the one thing that is missing, is the interaction with and the dynamics of an audience. I can’t remember who recommended this, but one technique I’ve adopted when rehearsing, is to address images of people’s heads that I’ve drawn on paper. I have these heads distributed high and low and from left to the right. This to some extend, adds that audience dynamic. As a minimum I’ll be able to practice making eye contact. The more you practice aspects like eye contact, gestures and stage use, the more they become automatic and natural.


Thumbs Up and Down

Try to find an opportunity to present to a number of people when you’re practicing or rehearsing. If these people are happy to help out, ask them for feedback, similar to an evaluation. When a few agree on a recommendation, try it out right there and then. When you get a lot of, “Yeses!”, it’s a keeper. Getting further feedback on the aspect your trying out, will really hone it.

Exaggeration and Other Exercises

Man and very big Fish

Similarly as the feedback, a great exercise is to choose one of their top recommendations. Let’s say, for example that they want you to be more animated. Your then present your speech again, exaggerating where they want you to be more animated. You then score your animation level out of 10, with 0-4 being too low, with a 5 being just right and a 10 being way over the top. Sounds a bit like Goldilocks doesn’t it? Anyway, your listeners will then score you in the same way. I guarantee you, on comparing scores, it will usually be an eye opener.

Even when rehearsing on your own, exaggerating the weaker aspects of your presentation skills is a great way to strengthen them. Often if you exaggerate during rehearsal, you’ll nail it when presenting for real.

A great improv exercise is called Gibberish. Gibberish is using nonsense words only. The idea behind this exercise is for you to express yourself and get your meaning across, using body language. Especially using facial expressions. It really accentuates your body language. Off course vocal variety also comes into it as well.

Time Yourself

Old Fashioned Pocket Stopwatch

Time yourself when rehearsing so that you know exactly how long your speech will take. When you know how long it’s going to take, you can modify the speech to the time allowed. So time yourself and then leave some. What do I mean by, “leave some”? Well, if you have extra time up your sleeves, it gives you time to slow up and emphasise the point you’re making, when you sense that they’re really interested. How do you know when they are really interested? You can feel it. You can feel it, because unconsciously, you’re reading their body language. You can see it, as all their eyes are on you and they’re paying attention.

The other aspect of speaking is humour. You need to leave time for laughter. Yes laughter. You can get laughter, or not, where you intend for them to laugh. But sometimes you’ll get laughter where you don’t expect it. Sometimes the laughter continues on for longer than you expect. This often happens when the audience is larger. Audience members feed of each other. The worst thing you can do when laughter is in progress is to continue on talking through the laughter. It’s called stepping on laughter. You’ll be robbing yourself and the audience when you do that. And you are more likely to do that when you are conscious of your time limits.

Another thing to realise is that rehearsing in front of a blank wall is different to when you’re presenting to an audience. Maybe that’s why people rehearse in front of mirrors. Unless you’re extremely nervous, it will take longer when presenting to an audience. Give yourself the peace of mind knowing that you have a time to spare.

I strongly recommend that you know how long your speech is by timing yourself during your rehearsal. Leave time to slow up for when they’re really tuning in. Make sure you have some time up your sleeve for when you get more and longer laughter than you expected. And have a time to spare, because when you’re presenting to an audience, the dynamics are different.

Video Yourself

Hand-held Video Camera

A tough one is to video yourself, both when rehearsing and especially on the day. Actually it’s not the viewing that’s the tough part, it’s watching yourself afterwards. Do you want helpful, tough and real feedback? No one will be tougher on you than yourself. I reckon that if you’re not willing to sit through your own presentation, you have a bit of a nerve expecting the audience to do so.

Props, Mikes & PowerPoint

Girl showing Apple, Microphone and PowerPoint Logo

When using props of any kind, be sure you practice with them as you rehearse. Check out my hiccups with Props. If you are going to use PowerPoint as part of your presentation you will need to use the PowerPoint presentation as part of your rehearsal. That may mean looking at your electronic device only. The fact that you will have to imagine the overhead display is a good thing as you should not be looking at the slides anyway. Rehearsing your PowerPoint presentation will give you a crystal clear idea what slides there are, in what order you’ll be presenting them in, and where they’ll occur in your speech. You should also rehearse your speech without your PowerPoint slides. The reason for this is that Murphy is never far away. That is, if something can go wrong, it will. Similarly, if you are going to be miked up or will be using a hand-held mic, get some practice in just before the event. It will help familiarise you with the mic and alert you to any problems. Check out my microphone use post, “Speak Up

How Much?

Red Question MarkHow many times should I rehearse your speech? This is an often-asked question and the question I had when I started speaking. So I asked two world champions, on two different occasions, “How much should you rehearse?” The first champion said, rehearse until you think it’s enough. Then you need to rehearse some more, until you can present it in your sleep. You’ll then be able to concentrate on connection with the audience. The other one said, “Keep rehearsing until you love it again.” Mind you, I did over rehearse once, right up to the actual event. I was totally focused on remembering the words. I was totally in my head and that meant I was not connecting with the audience. In fact, I lost the essence of the speech, which actually caused me to blank twice at different parts of the speech.

On a related point, the speaking champion, Darren La Croix, teaches that when you’re about to take the stage, you should not be thinking about the speech, instead focusing on the audience. While I agree with him about being there for the audience, however, I think it’s good to remember your first lines to get of to a good start. It reminds me a bit of exam times. Some people perform better cramming information right up to the very last minute. Others, when they feel they have done enough, need a break to perform better.

The Dress Rehearsal or Dry Run

Man Suited Up With Bow Tie

My older brother, who is an opera singer, once advised me to do your last rehearsal dressed in the clothes you’ll be wearing when presenting at the event. That’s the first time I realised what a “Dress Rehearsal” meant.

Similarly, when I was a convention chairman, the big mistake I made was not to have a “Dry Run”. The idea behind a dress rehearsal and a dry run is that it highlights aspects that you’re not fully aware off until you get as close to doing it for real. As an example, in one of my speeches, I started off by pretending that I was too nervous to go through with the speech and said, “Sorry I just can’t do this?” I then walked off to the audience’s left of the stage towards where I was sitting. There is a staging reason why I moved to the left that you can check out here. However, during the dress rehearsal I realised that I’d better be sitting on the left hand side of the room prior to my speech, so that I would actually be returning in the direction of the seat I left.


The adage, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” applies when it come to the topic of Rehearsal. To succeed, leave no stone unturned. It gives you the confidence to be in the moment and connect with your audience.

Speak to Connect, to make that difference.

Author: Henk van den Bergen

I have been speaking on Champagne for 20 years and decided to improve my speaking skills by joining Toastmasters International 13 year ago. I'm still a member today and I'm passionate about sharing what I’ve learned. I’m also proud to be the 1998 “Vin de Champagne Award” winner and being a three time Australian finalist in the International Speech contest.

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