How to Prepare For a Speech: 7 Practical Tips

Table of Contents

Introduction

Glossophobia, other than being a very fun word to say, is an anxiety disorder that affects nearly a quarter of the world’s population. Glossophobia refers to the fear of public speaking. As much as 75% of the population feels some level of anxiety when faced with public speaking. Even those of us who have been speaking for decades still get nervous before getting onstage. But we also have learned the importance of preparing for a speech and how that preparation can turn anxiety into confidence.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the essential steps to prepare for a speech, ensuring you feel confident and ready to captivate your audience. From exercise and breathing techniques to diet, rest, and outfit choices to affirmations and mental preparation, there are many steps that go into preparing yourself to give a great talk. Let’s get into them!

Step 1: Exercise and Physical Preparation

Exercise and physical activity is a great way to reduce stress and improve performance, not only in speaking but in general. Keeping in good shape will help keep down anxiety in general, so try to get into a routine if you’re not already. Exercise releases endorphins and endorphins can help calm nerves. Let’s look at some examples of exercises you can do to help prepare yourself to deliver a speech.

Cardio

Other than having a general exercise routine, there are a few exercises you can do just before a speech to reduce your feeling of nervousness. You could do some light cardio – maybe you’re speaking at a conference and the hotel you’re staying at has a gym with a treadmill. Take a walk, go for a run, swim laps, whatever feels right to you. Don’t overdo it though – you don’t want to be limping up the steps onto the stage!

Non-cardio

If you don’t have the time, space, or desire to do cardio, then maybe some stretching or light yoga could do the trick. Both of these activities help to center the body physically and regulate your breathing. Breathing is a key point to focus on when preparing to go on stage. There are loads of great apps that have quick five- or ten-minute-long yoga routines and stretching circuits that you can try.

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Step 2: Breathing Techniques

Just like physical exercise, getting your breath right is a great way to get ready to deliver a talk. Using different breathing techniques can help give you a sense of calm and help you arrive and stay in the present moment. Deep breathing increases oxygen flow and can help steady your voice. It’s pretty hard to nail a speech when your voice is shaky and you’re out of breath.

There are several different helpful breathing exercises that you can utilize to prepare to deliver a speech. Diaphragmatic breathing is one example.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

The diaphragm is your most efficient muscle when it comes to breathing. When first learning diaphragmatic breathing, start by lying on your back with your knees bent and head supported, placing one hand on your chest and the other below your rib cage to feel your diaphragm move. Breathe in through your nose, letting your stomach rise while keeping your chest still, then tighten your stomach muscles to exhale through pursed lips. Once you have this down, you can try this exercise while sitting in a chair. Just make sure that your knees are bent and your upper body is relaxed, with the same hand placements and breathing pattern.

Box Breathing

Another exercise you can try is “box breathing.” Box breathing is a simple technique that anyone can learn to help re-center themselves and improve concentration in stressful situations, such as giving a speech. Follow these four steps: breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, slowly exhale for four seconds, and repeat until you feel re-centered. Just thirty seconds of deep breathing can make you feel more relaxed and in control before sharing a message.

4-7-8 Technique

Finally, a third breathing exercise that might be worth trying out is the 4-7-8 technique. To use the 4-7-8 technique, follow this breathing pattern: empty your lungs, breathe in quietly through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. You can repeat the cycle up to 4 times. Now, there isn’t a ton of strong data to support the benefits of this technique but a 2020 review found some evidence suggesting that it may improve heart and lung function and reduce blood pressure.

Step 3: Diet and Hydration

You may not think your diet would have a significant impact on your speaking performance, but diet and hydration can actually strongly influence your energy levels and voice. Many speakers fail to pay attention to what they are putting into their bodies before a speech and it can show. To properly prepare you need to know how what you eat and drink impacts your energy and voice.

Diet

In his book, The Successful Speaker, Grant Baldwin stresses that you should avoid eating a heavy meal before talking. Eating a heavy meal, such as meat and pasta, can make you sluggish and devoid of energy. Try to eat light, balanced meals that will give you energy without weighing you down too much. Salmon, eggs, or different fruits and vegetables could do this for you. Some speakers even avoid eating at all on the day of a speech! Figure out what works for you.

Hydration

It’s not only what you eat, but also what you drink. Stay hydrated! You don’t want to show up to a talk with a dry throat and lips. However, if you’re literally about to step on stage, don’t drink too much. Take a couple of sips of water to tide you over for your talk but don’t overdo it – you don’t want to have a serious urge to use the toilet once you’re up there. Often, you can carry a bottle or cup of water on stage with you if you feel it’s necessary.

Step 4: Rest and Relaxation

It goes without saying that you don’t want to step on stage coming off of a night with no sleep. Adequate sleep and relaxation techniques help improve focus and reduce anxiety. In his book, Grant Baldwin says, “Don’t stay up late the night before. This seems obvious, but it’s very important to get a good night’s sleep before you speak. Sleep works wonders and can be the difference between you being kind of slow and groggy during your talk and being ‘on.'”

But sometimes you can’t really help it if you’re feeling anxious about a big speech. It may be those very nerves that keep you from sleeping. So how do you address that?

Strategies for Better Rest

There are a few strategies you can implement to help ensure being well-rested before gigs. It is worth pointing out that pretty much all of these methods won’t work as one-off practices – they need to become habits. Establishing a regular bedtime routine is key. Don’t stay up light, as Grant says, and try to go to bed at a similar time every night. This helps your body get accustomed to a consistent sleep schedule and develop strong circadian rhythms.

A comfortable sleeping environment is also important. A darker room and cooler temperatures has been shown to support better sleep, as well as minimizing sound disturbances. It’s pretty well-known that using screens right before going to bed affects your sleep. Try setting limits on your phone usage or Netflix time. Give yourself at least an hour before bed without screens.

How to fill that terrible, screen-less void? Read a book. Journal. Read through your speech once. Listen to some calming music. Do a crossword. Stare at a wall. Do whatever. Just try not to scroll if you can avoid it.

Another good way to fill your final hour before sleep is through meditation. There are several different forms of sleep meditation that you can try: breathing exercises, visualizations, mindful body scanning, even counting sheep (or just counting in general). Try a few methods and see what works for you.

Step 5: Choosing the Right Outfit

Dress for success. How you dress can really affect your confidence and comfort. Try picking out your outfit the night before your speech (or when you’re packing if your gig requires travel). You don’t want to be putting on your outfit the morning of your talk and find that a button is missing from your shirt or that you packed two right shoes. Plan ahead.

Wearing something comfortable and appropriate for your speech can really boost your confidence and increase your relatability or credibility with your audience. Don’t wear something too flashy or distracting. You want your audience’s attention to be on your words, not your Hawaiian shirt.

Step 6: Mental Preparation and Visualization

So far we’ve touched on a lot of ways to physically prepare for a speech ahead of time – exercise, meditate, sleep well, dress well, eat the right stuff, etc. But another equally important, if not more important, facet to your preparation is being mentally prepared. When it comes to overcoming fear, reducing anxiety, and boosting your own confidence, mental preparation and visualizing your own success can be a remarkable method.

Mentally walk yourself through your speech. Maybe stand in front of a mirror and observe yourself giving your main points. Analyze your body language so you can see just what your audience will observe. Even without a mirror, just picture yourself giving a great speech with confidence and poise. Imagine your audience responding positively and recognizing your public speaking skills.

If you can tell yourself that you will have a lasting impression on your audience, your message will come across with more confidence.

Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations are another way to prepare your mind for a talk. Write some affirmations that remind yourself of your specific purpose and points and tell yourself that you’re going to do a great job. Remind yourself of your value – you were hired to give that presentation because you’ve got a big idea and your overall message is important.

Say something like this: “I am a magnet for positive energy when I speak. I am always focused and in control of my narrative. I am a voice of reason and wisdom. I am always prepared, rehearsed, and ready to deliver.” The first step is confidence and everything else will follow.

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Step 7: Final Day Preparations

All the tips above can be done in the days and weeks leading up to a gig. They are all habits that you can establish and have as a part of your routine and structure all the time. But how do you handle the final hours before delivering your presentation and sharing your main ideas and message?

Create a day-of-speech checklist. Here’s what we recommend, but feel free to adjust it to your needs and practice:

  • Eat a healthy, light meal. We talked about this earlier. Eat something light that will give you the energy you need. Avoid pastas and heavy carbohydrates that will make you sluggish.
  • Review your talk one more time. Practice your speech at about 50 percent energy one last time to boost your confidence and increase your comfort level. Why only 50 percent? You want to save your full energy for the stage and avoid exhausting yourself right before the performance. Now that you’ve seen the room, visualize the stage and setup. Think through your pauses, movements, and gestures to build muscle memory, so your delivery feels natural. If you’re driving, practice by speaking out loud to yourself on the way.
  • Run a tech rehearsal (if time and venue allows). Some larger venues might schedule a sound check or tech run-through, but regardless, you should always check your sound before all of your speeches. Don’t take their word for it – check it yourself to be sure. It doesn’t matter how great your message is if your audience can’t hear your words and ideas.
  • See how the stage is lit. During a mic check, the house lights will likely be up. However, if special stage lighting will be used, ask the tech crew to show you what it will be like. Getting a feel for the actual lighting is helpful to avoid being unexpectedly blinded, which can seem unprofessional to an audience. You want to know if you’ll be able to keep eye contact or not.
  • Review slides if you’re using them. Slides can be a great way to organize and outline your speech and provide images and visual aids that give greater detail than just your words. But if you’re using slides and therefore a ‘clicker,’ you’d better check on that before speaking. Make sure your transitions and slides are well-timed.
  • Walk the stage. Get a good feel for the size of the stage you’ll be sharing your ideas from. Maybe there will be cameras – know where they are and where you should stand and walk.
  • Arrive early! No need to add unnecessary stress to your day by showing up last-minute, or worse, late. That won’t make for a good story to tell future event planners.
  • Drink some water – but just a little bit of water. Will an audience remember if you have to take a bathroom break mid-speech. Uh, yeah, you bet they will. That would make for a good story, though.
  • Check your teeth – and your fly. Does this really need an explanation? Just don’t embarrass yourself like that. A toothpick and a quick fly-check should solve this potential disaster.

Step 8: Backstage Preparations

You’re about to step on stage. The audience is waiting for you to deliver your speech and it’s main ideas. You have a key message and strong opening to deliver. What can you do in these last few moments to prepare for public speaking?

Basically, all of these habits that we’ve discussed and that you have hopefully taken up in your daily routine are also great immediate pre-speech techniques. Breathing exercises to center yourself; power poses and affirmations to boost confidence and remind yourself of your capabilities and past successes; a quick mental rehearsal and visualization; and some light stretches or some quick pacing to release tension.

All of these practices will help you engage your audience, tell your stories, and deliver your big ideas effectively. Now it’s your time to actually get on stage and make your points to your audience.

Conclusion

Preparing for a speech goes beyond mastering your content – it combines physical and mental preparation to ensure you’re at your best when you take the stage.

By incorporating strategies such as diaphragmatic breathing, box breathing, and the 4-7-8 technique, you can manage anxiety and stay calm. Paying attention to your diet, getting adequate rest, and choosing a confident outfit can further enhance your readiness. Taking time to practice your speech with a focus on energy conservation and familiarizing yourself with the stage setup and lighting will boost your confidence and make your delivery smooth.

What works for some people may not work for you. Use the methods we’ve gone over and create some of your own. Remember, thorough preparation is key to delivering a compelling and memorable speech.

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