Never, never, never (well, almost never) give a speech without first having spoken it out loud, either to yourself or to one other person.
There are five ways that rehearsing your speech improves it.
First, by rehearsing your speech out loud, you discover how (or if) it holds together and whether it makes sense.
If you simply outline a speech and think it through (i.e. talk it through silently in your mind), it always makes sense…at least, to you. That’s because you supply all the background information and insights you’ve gained preparing the talk. You know what you mean, so you think you’re saying what you know. But when you force yourself to speak and pay attention to the words coming out of your mouth, you become aware of the gaps or inconsistencies. And you can fix them.
Second, by rehearsing your speech out loud, you compose it — or recompose it — for the ear, not for the eye.
Written communication is different from oral communication, which needs to be simpler, to use shorter sentences and parallel construction, to be immediately comprehensible. It’s fine to begin with a written text. But talking it through helps turn the written word into the spoken word.
Third, by rehearsing your speech out loud, you pay greater attention to the sound of words.
It’s perfectly legitimate, for example, to use “eschew” in a written piece, but I would never say it aloud in front of an audience. And I have a hard time getting my tongue around certain sound certain phrases. (I made a fool of myself once trying to say “fluent French.”) It’s better to find these things out before we have to say them from the stage.
Fourth, by rehearsing your speech out loud, you simplify it.
You eliminate extraneous material, simply because you forget it. If you can’t remember what you’ve prepared after practicing it a number of times, referring to your notes as needed, how can you expect your audience to remember any of it, given that they’ll only hear it once? Sometimes you need to have a text or a detailed outline to refer to. But even then it should be so clearly and simply structured that you can remember its main point and how one section flows into another.
And finally, by rehearsing your speech out loud, you learn how to deliver it. You master its pacing, when to speed up or slow down, when to pause, when to increase or decrease your volume. And you learn which gestures come naturally to you, spurred by the thoughts you’re expressing.
If your speech is important enough to prepare for (to research, think through, and write out), it’s important enough to rehearse. Practice your speech out loud and you’ll improve its impact tremendously.
(In a future post I’ll tell you how I rehearse my speeches, but for now let me just suggest that you stand up and walk around while you practice speaking out loud.)
For suggestions on overcoming the fear of speaking, check out How to Develop Confidence.