Public Speaking Myth: “I’m Actually Better Off-the-Cuff”

No, you’re not.

Sure, you may have occasional “knock-it-out-of-the-ballpark” occasions when all the stars align and you feel incredible about your performance. But if you want to be consistently effective and powerful, you have to, (I hate to say it), practice.

“But when I practice, I sound rehearsed!” Yes, that can definitely be a danger. But, (I hate to break it to you), it just means that you aren’t practicing enough.

Here’s how it works. You outline what you want to say, then you start saying it. You listen to yourself. You might video yourself. You say it some more. You notice that, in this one section, a certain phrase keeps tripping you up. You replace that phrase. You stop practicing for the day.

The next day, or the day after that, you practice some more. Your brain kicks in and starts really feeling good about your content–you know how to get from point A to point B because you heard yourself navigating a tricky transition and you smoothed it out. You stop practicing for the day. Lather, rinse, repeat.

How do you know when you’ve practiced enough? One good indicator is that you can tell the content of your presentation to another person conversationally and keep their interest. Another is that, when you practice, you can engage with the room around you, and not think only about what you’re saying next.

Scott Berkun, author of “Confessions of a Public Speaker,” makes a terrific point in that book. He says that, if you’re doing an hour-long presentation or a speech for forty people, and you don’t practice, in essence you are valuing the five or six hours you might spend practicing above the cumulative forty hours of the people who are going to watch your speech.

If I still haven’t convinced you, think about this. That last speaker you saw, the boring one who kept looking at his slides instead of at the audience, who kept saying “uh” and messing with his glasses? He thought he was better off-the-cuff.

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