Before practicing at all, the speaker must absolutely have a solid foundation established in the outline. Prepare the outline as fully and completely as possible before beginning. The only other tool required for this practice session is a timer. Most cellular phones have stopwatch apps readily available, but in a pinch, one could easily find a relatively cheap stopwatch or use the kitchen timer function on just about any microwave.
Speakers can take two approaches to using the timing during practice sessions. First, they can start the stopwatch, deliver the speech, and then see how much time has elapsed, adjusting as necessary from that point. Another method is to use a countdown-style timer, setting the timer for the maximum amount of time allowed and delivering the speech after starting the countdown. If the timer beeps before the speech concludes, the speaker can note on the outline how much material in the speech remains, which informs them how much needs to be cut from the final draft. Regardless of how the timer gets used, the speech’s likelihood for success relies on it. Practicing with a timer trains the brain to recognize how much time has elapsed, helping speakers to develop almost a “sixth sense” regarding the time, so that they will automatically know how long the speech has lasted while delivering it in front of the audience. When people experience situations that induce high levels of stress and anxiety, their perception of time becomes distorted. After a ten-minute speech, one student may sit down and feel like only two minutes have passed, while another student may sit down after three minutes and think that more than eight minutes transpired. Using this method provides critical biofeedback, which helps the body determine much time has elapsed, helping the speaker finish the message within the allotted time.
In this first practice session, the speaker should start the timer and deliver the speech from the outline, vocalizing it as closely as if delivering it in front of the intended audience.
After the conclusion of the first run-through of the speech, stop the timer to determine whether the speech ran under time, over time, or within the range allowed for this specific speech. Ideally, speakers will fall within the upper-middle point within the time range allotted. For example, the practice run for a 6–8 minute speech should aim for the 7:30–7:45 mark. As people get increasingly nervous, their vocal rate has the tendency to follow their heart rates. Increased heartrates will likely lead to increased speaking rates. Good speakers take this into consideration and give themselves a little extra room, just in case.
If this practice session ends up over time, go back through the outline and determine what information to edit out of the speech. Don’t randomly remove content. Prioritize removing any information that does not seem to fit with the audience’s needs. If the speech falls under the time limit, go back to the outline and consider elaborating further on some of the points. Again, utilize the audience analysis to determine which points would better suit their needs.
Speakers should continue practicing the speech in this manner until they confidently deliver the speech while making sure the timing comes out consistently. At that point, they should put the speech aside and walk away. There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to practicing a speech. Practice too much, and it will become too rote and rehearsed. This first practice session serves only one purpose: testing the time limits and determining if the amount of information included fits within the parameters of the speaking engagement. Once that has been accomplished, any further practice could actually damage the ability to remain conversational.