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Get Past the Jitters & Use Apps in Speech Preparation

There are options to help you keep calm in front of a group

Susanna Speier Staff Reporter
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5 min read
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The big blue bug bit the big black bear and the big blue bug drew blood,’ It gets your tongue flying. It lifts your energy.
- Kent Alexander, actor and theatre coach

On the surface, it seems oxymoronic. Isn’t speaking to a live audience kind of the opposite of watching videos on your phone? Yet preparing and rehearsing is a fundamental part of the process. Step up to the podium unprepared and no custom teleprompter premium feature can help. “You need to know how your voice and body resonates and, yes, your phone can help with that,” says actor and theater coach Kent Alexander, who directs his students and clients to YouTube for research.

As Alexander’s acting career merged with his work in higher education, and he found himself teaching undergraduates who were training to be teachers, ministers, and attorneys, he integrated the techniques for training them with his techniques of training aspiring actors.

“Look at (President Barack) Obama’s lit speech for the Democratic Convention,” he would tell them. For that, YouTube is indispensable. He urges his students to study award show speech body language.“The value of watching video clips is in the questions you ask yourself while watching,” he explains. Questions included “did he make eye contact?” and “what happened to this person’s hands?” Alexander also suggested the TED app for watching TED talks. “Many of which are 18 minutes max and represent a wide range of public speaking skills and abilities.”

In addition, Alexander recommends beginning rehearsals with a tongue twister like, “‘the big blue bug bit the big black bear and the big blue bug drew blood’’ because “it gets your tongue flying. It lifts your energy.” Alexander also asks his students to journal their process so they can see their valuable insights and breakthroughs.

Asking, ‘What do I Want?’

Tim McCracken, head of Acting at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Education & Community Engagement, encourages his speech students, who range from CEOs and attorneys to doctors preparing medical presentations, to “just allow yourself to take a breath after each point you’re making and seeing what that does for you.”

So instead of recommending apps, McCracken tells his students to take that breath after each point because “it’s a great rehearsal technique. It’s one of many different things we might employ in a coaching session. Allowing breath and allowing it to be present in your work.”

He also recommends asking the question “what do I want? What is my character’s objective? This is “the driving element through a play,” says McCracken, “in the same way when you’re thinking about a public speaking opportunity, you need to be thinking, ‘what do I want?’ This is a question people can reflect upon in the context of their public speaking opportunity.”

The Room Where it Happens

Alexander cautions his students that they need to thoroughly consider how to address an audience.

“Did they open up with a story? There are certain formats people use. What if you open with a joke that’s 50 years old to a millennial crowd or if it’s racist or sexist? You need to be aware of how what you say lands with your audience,’’ he said. Thinking about how jokes will resonate and factoring in the audience’s cultural, socio-economic and age demographic is also part of the process.

Slideshow

If your speech includes a slide presentation, ask yourself can you read the slides from the back of the room? If it’s just a speech, you have nothing to worry about but if your talk includes a slide presentation, Adam Bryant’s How to Speak in Public article in the New York Times has great suggestions on image and formatting considerations.

Bryant’s article also provides easy to overlook tips like, “don’t read your slides out loud for your audience. Let them read the text while you provide some commentary or further insight about the idea.” It’s important to note that when preparing the slides and bullets, remember to “not present the whole list at once because people will read ahead. Build your slides so each new slide adds another bullet point to the growing list.”

Advice from Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking

Aaron Beverly, 2019 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking, concurs that note-taking is important by recommending the Evernote app which he uses for notetaking and documentation. He also uses an app called Speechy to transcribe his talks into text which, he says, expedites his writing process.

“Personally, I find that nothing beats the simple voice recorder on your phone. I listen to my speeches and will correct my speeches based off of what I hear. At the same time, I internalize my speech like I would my favorite song,” says Beverly.

Finally, he reminds anyone working on preparing a speech to keep in mind that “technology is a tool and not a crutch. If you find that you're becoming too dependent, take a step back and remember the fundamentals.” 

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