Any individual who speaks to audiences as part of their career will tell you that to become a better speaker, practice is the number one key to success. Any Professional athlete will tell you that in order to be a better athlete; you must practice. To improve your speaking technique you must develop the discipline to practice. Ok…but how? What is the best way to practice? How long to do you practice? Where do I practice? My answer is simply…it depends. It depends on your own particular style of practicing. For example, when I practice, I do it in small chunks of time. I have found for me my practice takes the form; 2 steps forward and one step backwards. I practice till I am somewhat comfortable with the speech, then I stop and wait a few days. When I start practicing again, I am not at the same comfort level as when I stopped the first time. But I continue to practice and break through any mental barrier I may have. Practicing in small chunks of time resembles walking up a staircase. As I continue to work on the speech, I climb the steps to a better speech.
As to how long you should practice, well…it depends. I believe you can never practice too many times. The more times you practice, your comfortable level increases. Also the more times you practice, more additional ways you may find to say what you want to say. You may think that as you practice you will have the tendency to memorize the speech. Well, resist the urge to memorize your speech. I may want memorize my opening and closing but the body of my speech I want to have variety of ways to say what I want to say. If you memorize a 45 minute speech, what happens if your meeting planner says that you have only 25 minutes to do your speech? If you are the last speaker before lunch, most audiences will love you if you end 10 minutes early but hate you if you are one minute over.
Another aspect of practice concerns recording devices. Many speakers record their speeches. This method allows you to see their body movements or listen to their words to improve their speech. What you think you present to your audience, can be totally different as to what the audience will hear and see.
Remember, it is your speech but it is the audience who will decide. So practice hard, practice long and finally just practice!