This post is about one of the most valuable but most hidden tools a speaker possesses: the mock talk.
The mock talk is the talk you would give if you have unlimited time, had to tell everything you knew and weren’t constrained by things like structure and slides. Your mock talk is the closest you will ever get to just saying the first thing that comes into your head about a subject.
All that makes mock talks sound a bit pointless. Why bother with a talk that no one will ever hear and you won’t even deliver in rehearsals? The answer is simple: once you learn how to unlock your mock talk, you are at least half way to delivering something great on stage. Believe it or not, using mock talks correctly will make delivering final talks that bit easier.
So, how do you do a mock talk?
Everyone is different. Some people will find that their brain automatically does many of the processes I am going to recommend but if you are like me and like to see things on paper (or screen), this is the post for you. Feel free to borrow all or some of the ideas I give you and drop me a line with your feedback.
So, to start using your mock talk you will need the following:
• All the info you have gathered for your talk (within easy reach)
• Some kind note-taking medium (paper, Word, PowerPoint, mind-mapping software, whatever). It is best if this medium is not permanent and is as limitless as you can get. In other words, small, neat A5 ruled pads are not your friends here.
Once you have all of that together, start writing. Start absolutely anywhere and just scribble down bits of your talk. If you wish, you can start mapping out the whole structure or just one bit of it. You could start with your conclusion (your t-shirt message) and work backwards. The key thing is: just start.
The less you judge your beginnings and the less time you spend searching for the best word, the better. Just get on with it. Keep going until you have either run out of things to note down or run out of time. Note down all your ideas for illustrations and diagrams and pictures too.
Here is the key: from early on, due to some impressive wiring in your brain, your brain will start imposing a structure on the information you have gathered and will, with time, begin to write your talk. The truth is, most information is chaotic but our brains are wired to impose order onto that chaos. This is what the mock talk does.
Once you have finished noting things down, take a break for an hour or a day or more. Once you have taken a break, come back for session 2. This is where the order bit comes in. You will soon notice that some sections of your talk seem to already be in something resembling their final format. Other parts will be hugely long and some bits of what you have written will seem to make no sense.
The point of session 2 is to begin the cutting process. I have already talked and written a lot about this. This is the time for using your t-shirt message and your knowledge of your audience. Cut out irrelevant stuff, find better, shorter, neater ways of saying the relevant stuff and play around a bit with illustrations and images.
At some point in session 2, it is a good idea to have your first rehearsal. Before you rehearse, walk away from your notes for a few minutes, get a drink and divert your brain. I have no idea why this helps, it just does. Once you come back, grab a stopwatch or a countdown timer and start doing a talk based on your notes. This talk will be miles too long and you will pause and stumble. That’s all fine.
Your first rehearsal, which must be done out loud, will reveal lots of interesting things. Mostly, it will reveal that you are trying to say too much. So keep cutting. From now on, you will enter a process of cutting a bit, rehearsing, cutting a bit more, rehearsing and so on. You might even find that you cut too much and have to add some things back in.
You might also find that you want to play around with more visuals, sound clips, animations and so on. No problem. In many ways, the less text on your visual aids, the better. Just keep on cutting, finessing and rehearsing until you are consistently at the time you want.
The bonus of working this way is that you really do get to know your material extremely well and have lots of extra info you can use at question times or for later talks. You also learn how to flow well and get used to the sound of your own voice. Sure, working this way takes a while but it takes most of the nerves out of speaking and leaves you free to pay attention to all those audience signals I talked about a few weeks ago.
Try it and let me know how you get on.