Sweating in Advance: Practice, Practice, Practice

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Honest Abe, known for one of the most-remembered speeches of all time, was fond of saying he needed two weeks to write a 20-minute speech, one week for a 40-minute speech, but concluded, “I can give a two-hour rambling talk right now.”

And trust Mark Twain to make a point in way we’ll all remember. He said, “It takes three weeks to prepare a good ad-lib speech.”

Speaking succinctly, packing power into a few well-chosen words, conveying a significant message with brevity and impact – all that takes is preparation. Some of us like to think we can wing it, and we rationalize that belief in a number of ways. After all, don’t we know our own opinion? Don’t we talk about the subject all the time? Don’t we want to sound spontaneous?

Yes, yes, and yes.

Can’t we do that best if we’re speaking off the cuff?

No, no and no. At least, not very often. Eventually, the person who relies on winging it will crash and burn.

Think of it this way. A sandlot game doesn’t require a lot of preparation. It’s all in fun and there’s no trophy – or raise or promotion – hanging in the balance. But if we want to take our game beyond the sandlot, if we want to head for the majors, take it to the playoffs, we’ve got to prepare for it.

Let us tell you about a letter we received from an ESI graduate. She was interviewing for a promotion within her present company. Like all the candidates, she was asked to prepare a 15-minute presentation on how her skills met the job requirements, why she was the best choice, that kind of thing.

“I very carefully prepared what I wanted to say, and rehearsed it many times, both on my own and in front of others,” Jennifer said. “During the interview I was poised and relaxed… and remembered to say all the things I wanted to say.”

Here’s the feedback she received.

“The interviewers told me that in all their years of interviewing, they had never had anyone be so eloquent and poised without using any notes. The feedback on how well I did presenting myself made me feel very much like a winner.”

She is, indeed, a winner. And the perfect example of what sports reporter George Plimpton meant, in an article on preparing for speech, when he said, “The more you sweat in advance, the less you’ll have to sweat once you appear on stage.”


If you’re serious about advancing your skills and making an investment in yourself, we invite you to our Excellence in Speaking Institute. Classes are filling up quickly so don’t delay! Visit this page to read feedback from our graduates about their experience.