Speaking to My Stove

10 ways to improve the way you practice.

By Roena Oesting, DTM

There is a well-known joke that goes like this:

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice, practice, practice.”

The importance of practicing is a central principle of Toastmasters. How many times have we heard this comment at a club meeting: “You needed to practice that speech a bit more.”

But how should you practice? What practice techniques work best?

I joined Toastmasters in 1999 and have given nearly 75 manual speeches. In all that time, I’ve tried many different methods of practicing, and these 10 strategies have been most effective for me:

1. Never write out a speech in full. Leave the written-out speeches for the experts or for competitive speaking. This eliminates the urge to read your speech, helps you sound natural and increases your eye contact with the audience.

2. Jot down the points you want to make. Select the examples or quotations you will use. You can make this a formal outline or just a list of words or phrases that move you through your speech.

3. Write out the closing sentence. Think about the impression you want to leave the audience with and the one final word you want them to remember. Write and re-write this closing sentence and say it out loud a dozen times, or more, until you have it memorized.

4. Next, write the opening sentence and polish it until you are comfortable with it. Then learn it. Even if you fall over a chair on the way to the lectern and lose your notes, at least you will remember your opening sentence.

5. After these two most important sentences are complete, you’re ready for the first run-through with your outline. Stand in front of the most visible timing device you have, and practice. I talk to my stove, because it has a large timer and I can see it easily. I love using it because it doesn’t talk back or evaluate me. I set the timer for two minutes longer than my speech’s maximum time limit.

6. Never expect perfection. The first practice session may not be as polished as you would like, and the timing may be off. I often stumble part-way through, and fumble to find where I am in the outline. I then sit down, relax and go back to the outline. This is a good time to remove any extraneous material, add more examples or re-arrange the structure.

7. After modifying your speech, review the notes from your last evaluation. These include the notes your evaluator has written in your manual and the notes you wrote. (If you don’t make notes while your evaluator is speaking, you should). Find two or three things your evaluator said went well and write an affirmation of just one of them, such as: I’m good at eye contact or My voice is loud enough to be heard at the back of the room. Stand up and repeat these affirmations three times out loud. My stove doesn’t care if that seems silly. The affirmations remind me of my best speech qualities.

8. Now it’s time to practice your speech again. I don’t know how your kitchen is laid out, but my refrigerator becomes “Mr. Toastmaster” and my canister set is “Fellow Toastmasters and guests.” The speech is more polished during the second practice session, but I may still need to tweak the outline.

9. After the second practice session, put the speech away for the rest of the day. It’s important to let a speech simmer a bit and enjoy your life outside of Toastmasters!

10. On the next day, practice a third time. Read the opening and closing sentences twice out loud and review the outline before practicing a third time. For me, my patient stove awaits; my refrigerator is ready to be “Mr. Toastmaster” and introduce me, and the canister set – I mean, the audience – is eager to hear my speech.

Sometimes that’s all the practice time I have. The third practice session is the confidence builder. It confirms that I can do this speech and will not make a fool of myself. If I can practice one more time, that’s great. If not, I still have the best-educated, most-patient stove in town. 

Roena Oesting, DTM, is a retired educator and a member of the Great Communicators Toastmasters club in Coronado, California. Reach her at oesting2@yahoo.com.