Every time you make a speech or a presentation, you need to look at it as an opportunity. Whether it is an opportunity to make a sale, to earn a promotion, to make yourself look good, or just to make people laugh, it is an opportunity, and a very real way, a gift. You need to make sure that you make the most of it. While there are lots of public speaking skills that we can practice over and over again to ensure that we’re making better speeches, there are also some plain and practical things that we should do before we make every speech.
Make sure you know where you enter from – knowing where you are coming into the room, or up to the podium is critical. Eyes will be on you well before you start actually talking, so be sure you know how you’re going to make your entrance.
Have water on hand – hopefully you don’t need it, but nothing is worse than needing it and not having it. Make sure you can always reach water easily.
Make sure you have your cards or notes – you should definitely have your speech memorized, but you should also always have a backup. Be sure that you have your notes or your cards with you before you take your seat in the audience or backstage.
Make sure your cards are in order – if you don’t have your speech memorized, or if you lose part of it half way through and need to refer to your cards, they absolutely must be in order, or things are only going to go from bad to worse.
If using a mic, make sure you’ve done a sound check – a mic that isn’t working properly, or which is set to hot for your voice can make a presentation extremely awkward. Always, always ask for a soundcheck before the event starts.
If you’re making a speech at a dinner function bring a backup shirt – seriously, it’s not a joke. If you’re eating or drinking before a speech, Murphy’s law says some of it is ending up on your shirt. Bring a backup.
If using aids make sure they’re working – this includes things like powerpoint presentations or videos that you may be playing during a presentation. Nothing is worse than having something not working that you’re depending on, so test and double test before you start.
Steal yourself some prep time before the speech – this isn’t always possible, but if you can grab a few moments alone before a speech, it can be perfect to help you calm yourself and just prepare a little bit before you begin.
Know how big a house you’re playing to – a pitch session in a room with 10 people is much different than a wedding toast to 200. Make sure you know what to expect when you walk out on stage.
Play it cool – remind yourself that you’re great at this. Everyone is a good public speaker, some of them just don’t know it yet. Take a little time to remind yourself that you’re excellent at this, well prepared, and that everyone out there wants to see you do well. It will make all the difference in your mindset before you open your mouth for the first word.