The Hard Way–Usually the Best Way

I suggested to my adult son that he should exercise more.

His response:  “Dad, I always take the stairs.”  Good response, since that means he never takes the easy way to get to classrooms on several floors on Purdue’s campus.

When I was a young man, my coach gave me a leather basketball to play with during the summer. “Dribble it and shoot it as much as you can. You must make basketball a part of your daily routine if you want to improve for next season,” he said. He was telling me there is no easy way to improve.

This is a basic principle for most any worthwhile thing in life. This is especially important in delivering a speech. While coaching executives in presentation skills, I am amazed at how little time many actually take to prepare a speech. I’ll ask “How much time do you usually take in preparing for a presentation?”

The common response is, “Well, I have thought about it a lot, but I have been so busy.…”  

It is hard to convince people that a bad speech can mean failure in securing a contract or project as well as affecting the reputation of the company in a negative way.

Here are tips on preparing the “hard way” for a successful speech.

Start early in preparation. Don’t procrastinate. Cramming might work for an exam, but not a presentation. Outline your speech carefully. Examine relationships among your main points to determine that the points relate to each other and to your main idea.

Be willing to revise and redo key words and phrases so that meaning is instantly clear and correctly develops the word picture you want to convey to your audience. Crafting the right words for that audience helps maintain interest and creates understanding in the audience’s minds. Read good literature to help you learn to do this.

For example, James Lee Burke in his most recent book, Creole Belle, describes the reaction of an audience to a preacher:  “I had to hand it to him. As a speaker, Amidee was stunning. There was an iambic cadence in all his sentences. His diction and voice were as melodic as Walker Percy’s or Robert Penn Warren’s.”  That is much more meaningful than “Amidee knew how to motivate an audience.” 

Practice your entire presentation at least three times. However, with key stories and sentences, practice them as many times as you can. Speak them aloud as you drive to work or make sales calls.

Practice in front of a colleague or film a part or all of your speech and ask for feedback. Ask, “How can I improve? “

These techniques are not easy. To be effective, carefully craft your presentation—both content and delivery. With the “hard way” approach, your efforts will be rewarded.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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