7 Steps to Practice Beforehand as a Public Speaker

Practice beforehand or your private errors will become public blunders.

Don't ever present something publicly that you haven't rehearsed privately. Click To Tweet

That statement pains me to write as much as it pains you to read it. When did you last give a speech that you failed to practice or rehearse by yourself?

If I’m describing you, imagine the impact a lack of practice had on your audience–on their interest, comprehension, and retention of your speeches. Painful.

practice beforehand

A few years ago, I keynoted an event in Los Angeles. A corporation invited me to speak to their middle management on strengths-based leadership. All the pre-trip preparation went well. They handled the logistics of the airport pick-up and the first walk-through at the site like professionals. But I will never forget what one of their top executives told me after I requested time to practice prior to the speech.

He asked, “You still have to practice?!” Then he continued, “I stopped doing that years ago. You have to master the art of winging it. Brad, you’ll get there.”


I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. He equated preparation beforehand with a lack of experience. I stood there in shock and realized I needed to practice in my hotel room rather than the venue that day.

Experience doesn't eliminate the need to practice before you speak. Click To Tweet

1) Prepare the Venue 

If you plan to practice beforehand, make sure to practice in a venue that mirrors the actual venue where you will speak. This gives you a chance to get practice not only giving your speech, but also understanding the “feel” of your venue.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard a popular band performing their sound check. If major rock stars practice their music before playing each venue, why should public speakers do things differently?

Many times, however, you will not receive this opportunity. If he host of the event simply can’t give you the time, try to find a similar venue that could give you a chance to do a run-through.

2) Prepare Your Message 

Anyone who speaks regularly knows the value of preparation. If you don’t prepare well, stress levels go up and your impact goes down. Take the time to not only prepare your message, but also the intentional gestures you’ll use and the next steps you want your audience to take.

How could you possibly practice your message beforehand if you haven’t actually prepared your message?

I must mention one caveat here. Don’t avoid a run-through of your message, because you haven’t decided on all elements of your message. In an earlier post, I mentioned that I often gain clarity in my messages simply by practicing them and seeing what ideas come to mind during my practice times.

3) Prepare the Time

The most frequent complaint I receive when I mention practicing beforehand is time. Everyone lacks time.

How is that? How is it that we lack time to practice the one thing that most of us fear more than anything other than death? You would think that public speaking would be the one thing we would practice to alleviate our fears.

When you accept a speaking engagement, make sure to factor in at least twice the actual speaking time for preparation. For example, if you plan to speak for 30 minutes, make sure to budget at least 60 minutes for practice. (Also allow at least 5-10 times your allotted time for content preparation. In this case that would be 3-5 hours minimum for content preparation.)

You see many people think about public speaking (in regard to time) in terms of just the time you’ll spend speaking. For public speaking to be done well, you must budget your preparation time as well. For a new 30 minute speech that you haven’t given before, you will likely need at least 10-20 hours to prepare well.

Multiple caveats exists here as well. If you have given a similar speech or the exact same speech in other locations, your preparation will almost undoubtedly be much shorter. If you have a team who helps prepare the presentation graphics, text on the screen, and other elements of your presentation, your preparation time will also decrease. But for most people starting out as public speakers, many of these items won’t be in place, and you will need to put in the required 10-20 hours of preparation for each speech. Brutal. I know. But well worth it.

4) Prepare to Practice Beforehand

Nothing will waste your practice time more than practicing without preparation. Make sure your prepare your venue, prepare your message, and prepare the time, so that you can get the most out of your practice time.

Even though a practice round “doesn’t count” and won’t entail near the stress that the real speech will, see if you can turn the practice time into a real-life scenario as much as possible. Make it feel like the actual day of the event.

5) Prepare Your Mock Audience

I like to invite other people to listen to my practice speeches. Usually these are friends, colleagues, or family members. Regardless, they are close to me and this often creates a more stressful context than the actual speech itself. I mean, who wants to embarrass themselves in front of their best friends, colleagues, or spouse?

Here are a few tips to prepare your “mock” audience:

  • Provide your audience with a tool to evaluate your speech.
  • Tell them what to look for.
  • Tell them what feedback you’ve gotten in the past.
  • Encourage their honest and frank evaluation.
  • Remind them that if they provide helpful (even if difficult to hear) feedback, you will likely execute your speech at a higher level (because of them).
  • Thank them with your words (and with a gift card if you can).

6) Prepare to Change Your Speech

Practicing your speech isn’t an excercise in validation. If that’s what you need, make sure to tell your mock audience so they don’t waste time providing pointers for improvement.

Prepare yourself to make changes. Prepare to make major changes. Prepare to change the way you deliver the message, the clothes you wear, the facial expressions you use, and the stories you are passionate about.

If you don’t prepare to make these changes, you will likely frustrate your mock audience by wasting their time and also your real audience at the event by presenting a lackluster speech. I’m not saying that every speech must follow this process in order for you to do well. But I do believe that you care about your message (or you wouldn’t be delivering it). If we care about our message and the impact it can/could have on our audience, we should also care about how the delivery of our speeches affects the way others receive them.

Practice almost always gives me more confidence, but practice can do much more. If you listen to those in your mock audience and listen to your intuition, you will likely find many areas you can improve.

7) Prepare Your Supporting Materials

Nothing pains me more than a speech that abruptly stops for 1-5 minutes as a speaker tries to locate a video file, connects cables, or makes changes to their presentation text. Make sure to prepare these items in advance, so that when you practice beforehand you AND your mock audience get a chance to experience your speech as it will be delivered.

You can do this in many ways (which we will likely cover in a future post), but I think everyone has experienced the awkwardness of a speech held hostage by poor AV preparation.

After looking over these 7 Steps to Practice Beforehand as a Public Speaker, I would encourage you to think of your next speech. Imagine what you would need to do to apply this post to your preparation. Better yet, imagine how your audience will respond differently if you prepare in the ways I’ve described above.

Let me know what questions or other ideas for practicing beforehand which you’ve utilized.

This post is part of a series of posts on Public Speaking. Feel free to check out any post in the series.

1)Public Speaking Tips for Leaders
2) 10 Intentional Public Speaking Gestures
3) 10 Ways to Clarify Your Message As a Public Speaker
4) 5 Tips to Clarify Your Intended Result for Your Audience
5) 7 Ways to Begin Your Public Speech With a Bang
6) 7 Steps to Practice Beforehand as a Public Speaker
7) 10 Ways to Use Repetition in Public Speaking
8) 7 Step Process to Plan for Silence in Your Speaking
9) 5 Ways to Match the Message to a Mission
10) 10 Ways to Evaluate Your Public Speaking