Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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Don’t Become Someone’s Drinking Game: Prepare and Practice for Your Next Presentation

Ideally, professional speakers should be immune to the ahs, uhms, buts, ands, sos, and other poor speaking habits that can happen in front of an audience. Even seasoned professionals, such as journalists, sometimes fall into a comfort phrase that they use when searching for the next idea. The critical element of preparing for a speech or presentation is preparation and practice. Preparation is research, writing, and making sure that the information is organized in a logical and interesting manner. I recently attended a conference where most of the presenters were industry-specialists, not professional speakers. Most of them did well with the research aspect, and they worked hard on their organization and flow. None of them admitted to practicing their presentation out loud. The most difficult part of preparation is the practice. Out loud. Several times. It is only in the delivery of a presentation that we find the problem areas. Have you ever given a speech without practicing? Those moments that don’t flow well are due to lack of practice. Lack of practice is also when the audience hears your bridge or fillers words of ahs, sos, ands, and but uhms. In this segment of How I Met Your Mother, Ted’s students are fans of Robin’s morning news show, but not for the reasons she wants to believe. It is not her personality, her content or her reporting that makes students tune in. It is her mistakes. Robin’s interviews are the basis of a college student drinking game. Every time she says “but, uhm” Ted’s students raise their glasses. When confronted, Robin claims she never says “but uhm” during her TV interviews. It is not until she pays attention to just that one phrase on own show that she realizes how often the “but uhm” creeps in to her conversation, and she is able to control it. When we practice, we don’t need filler words. We know our speech well, and we are ready with each section. We can catch our problems areas or “filler words” and eliminate them. Practicing also makes us more confident to take questions and not lose our place. To really improve a presentation, try video taping your practice session with a flip camera and playing it back. I tried this recently and found I say “so” more than I thought. In my latest speech, I found that being aware of my filler word allowed me to consciously eliminate it. Prepare and practice for professional presentations. You don’t want to unintentionally become someone’s drinking game at your next event.


  1. Shirley Taylor

    Great advice, Mary. You can not present your best if you don’t know your material. Practicing helps eliminate the nerves, awkward silence, filler words and the chances of you becoming a drinking game!

  2. Sandi Coryell

    Two of my best friends in preparing for corporate speeches were my bathroom mirror and the privacy of my moving car. I found it awkward to practice speaking out loud but those two places, for some reason, worked for me. You are so right-there is no substitute for practicing out loud!
    Great tv reference to boot!

  3. Brianne

    I have to admit I am terrified of public speaking. However, I want to advance myself in my career as a social media specialist and I was encouraged to conduct seminars. I know I have to get out of my comfort zone since I really do want this. If I agree to run a seminar, I will have to make sure to plan it months ahead so I have the opportunity to practice, practice and practice even in front of my family. Hopefully with enough practice it will come as second nature when the real thing does happen.

  4. Lisa

    The best thing to do if you want to give public speaking a try but are nervous and fresh is to yes, practice at home. However, it is always best to start off speaking for a short time in small business groups and then work your way up. Eventually it gets easier if you do it often. Practice always makes perfect.

  5. Dave Cooke

    We used to have a saying as we prepped for important sales calls: “never practice in front of the customer.” Nothing beats preparation and practice. Get it right first and then share!

  6. Amber

    I used to be terrified of public speaking. But I am not anymore and what helped me get there was practicing in front of my friends. It became natural after practicing for a while 🙂

  7. Terri

    Public speaking is terrifying to anyone. Even the most outgoing people are scared at first whenever they think of it. However, like the others have said, with practice you get very good at it and then it becomes natural. Start small. Start speaking at small meetings then grow it from there.

  8. Kristy

    Practice makes perfect and that also goes for public speaking. Unless you are naturally super outgoing, public speaking will be a challenge until you become comfortable with it and that comes with loads and loads of practice.

  9. Renee

    Oh wow what a heavy subject. Public speaking. It takes time and practice definitely to get a true knack for it and I agree practicing at home is best, and then move up gradually to giving talks about your product or service at business meetings and you will be used to it, then you can move on from there, speaking like a pro 🙂

  10. Audrey Bruce

    You’re totally right about needing to practice your public speaking before showtime. I have found that attempting to be mindful in your daily speech can often help eliminate filler words in stressful situations. Often we default into our comfort zones when faced with the stress of public speaking, so if you put forth effort in your daily life to eliminate filler words it will translate into public speaking as well. Along with this, I would suggest going through your presentation at least three times before the final performance. This helps you deal with transitions and make marks in your notes to let your speech flow more naturally.


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