The more time I spend helping people become better speakers, the more I realize that the best way to improve is simply to rehearse out loud. Rehearse your speeches out loud. Rehearse what you plan to say on a conference call out loud. Rehearse how you’re going to answer a client’s questions out loud.
Out-loud rehearsal makes you sound smooth.
I was in a workshop this week with a group of sales people who had to learn to give their company’s “elevator pitch” quickly and simply. They had received in advance the exact three points that they were going to say. The exercise was simply to deliver the 30-second message.
It seemed like a simple enough task for these experienced sellers. But every time they stood, they stumbled over their words. They had to look down and remember what to say. They would stop and ask to start over.
Finally, I said, “Let me give it a try.”
And I stood and nailed it perfectly the first time. Everyone was impressed.
“But you’re a pro,” one person protested. “You do this all the time.”
“Perhaps,” I said. “But there is not a person in this room that couldn’t do what I just did in the next 30 minutes. And I can prove it to you.”
I then produced my iPhone and opened my “voice memo” app, which is a built-in digital recorder. I then played for them the rehearsals of their elevator pitch I had done in my car that morning.
“I knew that I was going to have to demonstrate this to you,” I said. “And I wanted it to come off smooth. So I practiced it until I knew I could nail it.”
You Can’t Practice In Your Head
Many people don’t know how to rehearse. I once worked with a consultant who told me that he couldn’t understand why he was a poor presenter. “I practice all the time,” he said.
But when I probed, I found that his “rehearsal” included spending a lot of time creating slides, flipping through those slides, and then going over what he was going to say in his head.
Practicing a speech in your head is like warming up your golf swing in your head. Speaking is a physical act. It’s done with the mouth. You need to get your tongue and lips and vocal chords accustomed to forming the actual words.
You have to Practice Out Loud
Working with that sales team this week, I showed them how it took me five rehearsals to nail their elevator speech. As I played back those recorded rehearsals everyone could hear how I changed the pitch slightly each time. With each take, I was trying out the best way to say it, making adjustments based on what I heard.
Finally, I gave everyone an assignment. “I’m going to give everyone here 20 minutes. During that time, I want you all to practice this elevator pitch at least 10 times out loud. Then you’re going to come back and we’ll hear how you do.”
They all left the conference room and found their own spaces to practice. When they returned, every one of them nailed it.
Out-loud rehearsal. Works every time.