Becoming an Olympic Speaker: Preparation and Practice

In everything we do, there are two components of excellence: preparation and practice. We know from the past weeks that these two skills can create Olympic champions. Why aren’t we following the same premise in our lives? I want to become a great speaker – a Toastmaster. Tony Robbins, a great motivational speaker, asks “Do you have your eye on medal-worthy success? Do you want to live life at the next level?” I’m asking myself the same thing. Preparation and practice lead to excellence.

I have my own business; I want to be successful in it. Therefore, I prepare sales presentations and I practice them. The goal of an athlete is always to win. They are up early to practice and go to bed late because they prepare for the next day. I joined Toastmasters because I want to be better at speaking and leading. This training and practice prepares me to be able to stand up and speak in front of a few people at a meeting, or at the opening ceremony at the Olympics. Toastmasters International provides guidelines to make simplify the amount of work you need to do by providing manuals for different types of speeches. Then, I must practice my speech until I know it so well that I have no need for notes. In this area of speaking, I, like an Olympian, have a goal to be excellent.

Toastmaster’s Better Speaker Series has a brochure on Preparation and Practice. From that manual, I will discuss my becoming familiar with the arena – the space in which I will do battle or have a win! These components contribute to the stage on which I am playing. Comfort and security for me and my audience are key attributes for the success of a speech. There are additional tips but I must pay attention to the following top ones on preparation and practice to be a success:

Lectern: Simone Biles’ lectern was a balance beam just a few inches in width. She prepared by knowing exactly how many steps she can take to the end, and how exactly where she must be to do a dismount. She “preached” to the audience in her performance and you knew it was gospel.
Speakers must also become familiar with the lectern. Is the podium too high/low? Should I use it and step out into the audience? Can I move around in my speaking area? My audience should be able to clearly see me as well as see my presentation and visual aids. I also must ensure that I can get up to the stage when I am introduced. Is there a ramp or stairs for which I must be concerned

Microphone: Do I need a microphone? What size is the room? If I am speaking in the Olympics’ opening ceremony, I will need to be heard above the noise and fireworks. If my venue is a business conference room, a microphone might not be necessary.

  • Control the microphone for good. Ryan Lochte definitely controlled the microphone but it backfired. I will make sure I use the microphone for good.
  • Do I want the room to be more intimate without a microphone? People will listen to me because they want to hear and not because I am speaking over them.
  • Are there older people in the audience, or people who are hearing-impaired? Large venues mandate the use of an interpreter.
  • I want to be heard above all noise, or to be able to adjust for that – I might have to change rooms to accomplish that. If there is another presentation in an adjoining room, I don’t want their microphone to be louder than mine and have my audience listening to that presentation instead of mine.
  • Testing the microphone is important. Make sure it works and, if it does, test the pitch.
  • Speak in a normal tone – my microphone should do the work for me so that I don’t strain my voice and become hoarse.

Room Conditions: It rained heavily at the Olympics’ closing ceremony; however, because they were prepared with rain gear, the show went on. They took into account the condition of the stadium.

  • Temperature. If the room is too hot or too cold, it will be distracting as the audience is concentrating on their comfort instead of paying attention to my speech.
  • Is the lighting appropriate? I want the room dim enough so the audience can see my presentation slides; however, I don’t want it so dark that they will fall asleep.
  • Are there competing sounds from a presentation in another room? Or construction work?
    Practicing is the second half of excellence. Preparation without practice, resulting in flawless execution, is diminished. In order to practice, the things I must do are:

Rehearsing the Speech

  • Practice ideas, not words – This means do not read verbatim from the slide. I must practice to summarize the main idea, and once I understand the overall presentation, I will no longer need to memorize or read the words from the slide. Only practice can make it happen smoothly.
  • Prepare a mental draft of the speech – I use bullet points to outline my speech. Then, in my head, I lay out what I will say for the introduction, the body and the conclusion. Even if I forget words, the audience will be clueless!
  • Finish each rehearsal session – Olympians utilize every second of a rehearsal session; they do not end early but might stay late. Sometimes, I will only practice the first ten minutes of a fifteen-minute speech. I need to finish each rehearsal session…and extend it.

Improving my Speech: Get a coach. In order to improve, and to see the improvement, it is best to get a coach. Marta Karolyi is a coach for the USA’s gymnastic team and top gymnasts over the past 30+ years have achieved immeasurable success with her. She has the ability to hone in on their best skills and show them how to improve their worse traits.

  • Add improvements gradually – Slowly add the skills that you need. Don’t try to do it all at once as it can be overwhelming. I have a habit of impatience when it comes to adding skills slowly. I try to add more than one and then I have to start over because I never fully harness each one.
  • Get feedback – Having someone who can give you unbiased feedback is worth a lot towards success. I had a business coach and an advisory board to guide me in business, and I the evaluation of my fellow Toastmasters to guide me in our semi-monthly meetings.

Because I prepare and get the opportunity to practice, I feel confident when making presentations. I utilize the Toastmasters guidelines to help me stay on track. In preparing for, and practicing at, my semi-monthly meetings, it prepares me for larger stages to showcase my skills. I am ready!