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How to practise a presentation or speech

In this age of instant, digital communication, the ability to command a room with a great speech is becoming a rarity.

We're no longer learning the essentials of compelling rhetoric at an early age.

And that's a shame.

Because being a strong public speaker isn't just useful once a year at a conference, or at your best friend's wedding. It's a gift that keeps on giving.

When your boss is deciding who should lead a big pitch, your confidence and conviction as a speaker will be remembered.

When the team leader role becomes available, your ability to explain clearly and keep a crowd's attention won't be forgotten.

I spoke to Linley Grant about ways to rehearse a speech effectively. Linley is a former president of the Tasmanian branch of Rostrum Australia.

Rostrum helps 1,700 members across Australia improve their public speaking skills and meeting conduct.

Linley, can you give us a couple of useful tips for preparing a speech?

First, balance. A really good speech has emotional and intellectual appeal in balance. This may mean a balance of contrasting viewpoints, or different stories, and so on – including light and shade.

Second, practice being genuine. A speech which comes across as contrived, too rehearsed, or not intrinsic to the speaker wastes every listener's time and effort.

What are the most common things people need to work on when preparing a speech?

A few things. To start, it's important the speaker realises people never make mistakes, they simply have skills which need developing.

Anxiety and fear lie behind most poor speeches. They turn speakers into people who think about themselves, not their listeners. 

Speakers rush their speech, squeak, speak too quickly, lose eye contact, forget what they want to say, read the whole speech verbatim, and so on. This is why rehearsing is so valuable.

It's also important to realise that a number of things provide the foundation for a good speech. There's practice. There's knowing the skills for controlling anxiety, like slow breathing and dropping your shoulders.

Then there's 15 or so other skills that – when rehearsed – give you the power to go into a speech feeling well-prepared. Timing is one of these.

Aside from the actual content of the speech, what else should we be rehearsing?

About 50 things! Most important though, I think, is practising to speak in an attractive tone of voice. Voices are unique, but a skilled speaker practises using a tone that people enjoy.

National broadcasters in Australia used to be selected for this quality and it can still make all the difference.

Thanks very much for your time Linley, it was a pleasure talking to you.

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