Preparing Your Speech on the Road

When you travel for work, do you make presentations to colleagues or clients? Do you interview or train people? Whatever the reason, communicating well is critically important to career success. Here are tips on how to prepare and hone your communication skills, even when you’re on the road.

Take advantage of travel time. The upside of air travel is downtime. This is a great opportunity to think about your speech and what you want to communicate. Use time waiting for your plane and/or flying to think it through and write down notes.

Who is your audience and what’s the best way to communicate with them? Is it a casual Q&A format or a more scripted talk? Write an outline of the key points you should get across, and start rehearsing them in your head. Since most people have a smartphone on them, consider recording your thoughts into the phone, then writing them down more clearly later when you’re alone at the hotel.

Keep it simple. The K.I.S.S. principle, “Keep it simple, stupid,” is a simple but wise adage. When you cram too much information into a talk, your speech will suffer and leave your audience confused, if not resentful that you’re wasting their time. Instead, keep it succinct and focus on two or three main points you want the audience to understand and retain. For example: Here is the challenge, this is what we propose and here’s why it will work.

Rehearsing pays off.  One area where many presenters fail is not rehearsing their speech enough. Know how much time you have, write out your presentation and practice it until you know it by heart. If you’re traveling with a colleague, ask him or her to stand in as your audience. Otherwise, stand in front of a mirror in the hotel room and go through the speech as if you’re presenting.

Some people think that too much rehearsal removes the spontaneity from their speech. The opposite is true when you know what you want to say without cue cards, you’ll be more confident, your talk will flow better and your personality will shine through. Don’t forget to leave time at the end for a question and answer session.

Whether you’re practicing alone or with people, stay aware of your body language. Make and keep good eye contact throughout your speech. If you’re nervous, look for a few key people with positive energy who support you. Smile when appropriate and use hand gestures to put an exclamation point on important points. Stand up straight and don’t be afraid to walk around and engage the audience. Your confidence will breed respect from them. Think of it more as a warm conversation than a speech.

Speak clearly and loudly. Another common trap of presenters is speaking too fast and/or not loudly enough. Don’t be monotone and bore your audience to death—let your voice reflect the words and emotion you are conveying.

When rehearsing, record yourself on your phone and listen back. Are you easy to understand or are you speaking too quickly? It may feel uncomfortable to hear your voice at first, but this is priceless feedback that will help you hone your speech and public speaking ability.

Open strong with “The Rule of Three.” Great orators know the importance of opening a speech strong and drawing the audience in quickly. For example, instead of using the standard, “Today, I’m going to talk to you about childhood obesity,” use the “Rule of Three” instead. “Children. (Long pause.) Obesity. (Long pause.) Epidemic. (Long pause.) This approach creates dramatic impact and will demand the listener’s attention from the start. Then continue strong.

Water and a paperclip. If you find yourself nervous, keep a small object in your pocket such as a paperclip that you can hold and focus on. It will give your nervous energy somewhere to go. Whether it’s a favorite crystal or small toy your child gave you it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it helps you calm down and stay focused. Also, keep a bottle of water close by in case you get a “frog in your throat.” A strategic sip will also allow you a moment to collect your thoughts.