Speech-Time Exclusive, Issue #004 -- Public Speaking Exercises: Power in Habits
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Speech-Time Exclusive, Issue #004 -- Public Speaking Exercises: Power in Habits
July 29, 2008

Public Speaking Exercises: Power in Habits

Why Do Public Speaking Exercises?

Most people can only hold 7, ±2, objects in working memory at a time (source: George A. Miller of Princeton University).

Try it - look for about two seconds at the random chain of numbers below, then turn away and write them down. Chances are, you'll remember only 5-9 of them in order. Here are the numbers:



How did you do?

Now imagine walking on stage needing to remember to

  • maintain proper posture
  • breathe from your diaphragm
  • make eye contact
  • speak at the correct volume
  • enunciate clearly and articulate well
  • move at appropriate places
  • use props at the right times
  • gauge audience attention and response
  • answer questions correctly
  • along with your speech and other material on top of it all!

Quite frankly, our brains can't handle it all. That is why we need public speaking exercises, to change these things from conscious efforts to unconscious habits. Once something becomes a habit, we no longer need to worry about it. Building good habits frees our mind to think about more important things, like connecting with the audience and responding to feedback.

So, in pursuit of these unconscious habits, you'll find two useful public speaking exercises after the quote break. The quote today, a rather long one, explains more the importance of subconscious habits by using tennis as analogy.


"People having speech defects sometimes learn part of the practice by laborious study, but good speech is always mainly unconscious speech. Any tennis player, even if he could not explain this enigma, could provide an analogy for it. When he sees a rapidly flying tennis ball coming toward him, he knows what he must do. He must maneuver himself into the proper position, be poised with his weight properly distributed, meet the ball with the proper sweep of his arm and with his racket held at just the right pitch, and all this must be timed to stop the flying ball at a precise point. But if the tennis player pauses to think of all these actions and how he will perform them, he is lost. The ball will not skim back over the net, building air pressure as it goes until it buzzes down into the opponent’s corner. If the tennis player thinks about anything except where he wants the ball to go and what he plans for the next stroke, he will probably become so awkward that he will be lucky to hit the ball at all. Rapid, precise muscular actions can be successfully carried out only by the unconscious part of the brain. And so with the speaker. He cannot speak well unless he speaks unconsciously, for his movements are as precise, as complicated, and as exactly timed as those of the tennis player." (Charlton Laird (b. 1901), U.S. educator, linguist. The Miracle of Language, ch. 1, World (1953).)

One way to free up your mind to concentrate on other things is to use pre-prepared speeches. At first, using a prewritten speech might sound like cheating. But it's not - many professional speakers have speech writers, as to presidents, politicians, and other famous speakers. Plus, you can always change the speeches in any way you want to change them if they don't quite fit your needs. So if you're ever feeling crunched for time, or just unfocused, I recommend buying a speech from Occasional Words. Business speeches, graduation speeches, wedding speeches... you name it, they've got it. I've looked at their speeches; they provide quality. Check them out.


Here are two public speaking exercises that I've found personally useful:

1. Speak with an object in your mouth. If you have problems with diction, this will help you out. Try giving a speech with a pen between your teeth. When you take it out, you'll be amazed at how clear everything sounds.

2. Talk while lying flat on the floor. Give your speech lying down. This encourages both proper posture and proper breathing: you'll find that breathing deeply is more natural when you are lying down. Remember how it feels, then speak like that when you get up.

Do these two public speaking exercises every day and they'll become habit. Once your subconscious is taking care of them, your speech will be ready to progress to the next level.

Happy Speaking,


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