a voice talent speaking in public


No matter what line of work you’re in, you will have to speak in public. It may be a crowd of hundreds or only a dozen or so people. And of course, public speaking continues to be one of society’s biggest fears.

There are only two times in all the public speaking that I have done that I was actually nervous, panicked and way anxious. Both times I was doing readings at a funeral and both times I had little or no time to prepare. Funerals don’t especially bother me (sad as they are) but being unprepared really bothers me. If my physical reaction these two times was anything close to what people have with their general fear of speaking, boy do I empathize.

Now you’d think that a guy with 25+ years of voice over experience would be able to keep it together even when speaking without preparation (having never seen the text or seen it really briefly before). And likely as far as the audience was concerned, I did. But internally, I could hear my voice crack, my breathing was tight and my body was rattling from head to toe. It was bad.

I don’t like being unprepared for live work.

In a studio, hand me a script, give me a few minutes to process and rehearse then hit the record button. I’ll be golden.

Live is different. You are not hidden in a booth and you get no retakes.

Live does not grant you do-overs. Preparation makes all things flow when you are live.

I’ll give you a couple of examples. Last weekend, I had to give a pulpit talk at my church on behalf of Catholic Charities. Big Cathedral, marble podium, the works. I aced it. I had time to spend 15-30 minutes the night before to prepare. I knew the script so well I could keep the talk going with eyes off of the script to look at the audience without losing a beat.

Yesterday, I gave a talk to a class of college students on the voice over business. All extemporaneous stuff. Home run. I’ve got 25 years worth of material. Here, its not a matter of having content, it’s a matter of editing it to only an hour’s worth of good stuff.

Both times I had done my homework. Both times I scores straight A’s.

Prepare, rehearse, plan. THEN make it look effortless.

8 Responses to “a voice talent speaking in public”

  1. Great advice Peter!
    I was in corporate A/V for about 15 years (still freelance) and the ones that always overcame the initial fear and made it work were the ones that you knew were prepared.
    I talked many a client off the ledge during rehearsal by just getting them to realize that as long as they’re prepared, and took some deep breaths, they’d be fine.
    The cocky ones who think they didn’t need to prepare and floundered during the event were fun to watch 🙂


  2. All so true, Peter.

    I’d add, of course, that it helps in advance to know (to the extent possible) who your audience is, and how many you’re speaking to.

    I’d also say that the speaker is basically the entertainment, in the widest sense of that word…even at a funeral. As the speaker or MC, YOU are the person they will look to for the message. Preparation is key….but you must absolutely show confidence and comfort with yourself and the audience, or they will see right through you, and you’re sunk. That confidence and comfort comes knowing the subject matter, as you mentioned, but it also comes from a place within that says: “It’s showtime folks!…let’s give ’em what they came for!”

    Dave Courvoisier in Las Vegas

  3. Hi Peter,

    This is a great topic to discuss. Rehearsing is everything when you want to make a great impression.

    I’ve sung at baptisms, weddings, other events and also at funerals. Generally the music is well-rehearsed because it is ingrained from years of study and performance, but the feelings and atmosphere of each unique situation pose different variables that add to the overall experience and delivery of the songs.

    As someone who is brought in to perform, as Dave says, you have to be ready to give people what they are in need of or what they expect to hear regardless of the situation and how it may affect you personally.

    Therein lies the challenge.

    Don’t think of what you described as a weakness or failure. For the people gathered, it was a demonstration of your humanity and how you felt despite the fact that you speak professionally for a living. Perhaps it made it all the more meaningful to them to see you like that full knowing that you are usually flawless.



  4. I totally agree, Peter (yeah, no surprise there! 😉

    Every few months I speak to different groups of Family Caregivers about Caregiver stress, burnout & how to take care of yourself, while you’re taking care of someone else. These are usually small groups of people anywhere from 5 to 40 people.

    I have a few different talks that I give depending on the direction that my client wants to take the discussion, and who the audience is (family caregivers with those they care fore at home, family caregivers with those they care fore at an assisted living facility or nursing home…)

    Last month a client called and asked me to talk about caregiver stress & how to deal with it.
    No problem.
    I went though my talk the night before & got there in plenty of time to set up my info.
    Then the client came in & said that she’d really like me to cover the guilt that some people feel when they “place” someone they love…..OK!…no problem.

    Since like you I have 13 + years of experience in family caregiving, I switched some of my flip chart sheets around & went though in my head where I was going to add in those specific pieces of info…I was prepared, and went on to talk pretty much without looking at my notes for about an hour.

    My client was pleased and those in attendance were pleased…I know that because the Q&A & discussion went on for about another hour! 🙂



  5. So true. I remember the first time I ever gave a powerpoint presentation. I was working in IT and I was presenting Y2K issues to the Management team (VPs and Sr VPs) of a national TV network in Canada.

    Using my theatre background, I put all my notes on index cards and marked them with ‘stage directions’ – when to click the mouse for the next line or slide, when to walk away from the podium, when to look at my audience, when to look at the slides, etc. I was comfortable and at ease as I knew the material cold and I blew them away (convinced them there could be issues with Y2K as well!).

  6. Hi guys.

    Great responses!

    James, I worked with some of those cocky guys too and I must confess to a hint of enjoyment while they were flustered because they didn’t take my advice on preparation. You can lead a jackass to water… 🙂

    Dave, you are 100% right. I remember hosting an auction when I was in radio for an MS fundraiser and the audience started out timid. It was in a bar and the set up was shall we say rural. By the time I was done with them however, we doubled their revenue goal for the fundraiser. I was confident, the audience was mostly drunk…a profitable combination!

    Steph, it would only be a failure if I was getting paid! 😉 I’ve haven’t been able to figure out how to invoice the corpse…very slow payers. Actually the first time, my wife was supposed to do the reading but when she started she got too emotional and I stepped up and finished it (it was actually before we were married).

    And the both times I was nervous, I don’t think most people noticed. Now if I was supposed to sing like you, I’d faint. THAT takes talent and guts and I’m not that tough.

    Liz, your experience with the topic change is alot like when I speak to colleges…we both know so much about our topic that a slight course correction really can’t throw us off. And your work is so vital and the challenge so heavy that your audience probably would have just like to listen to ANYTHING you said even if you hadn’t wowed them.

    Elaine, it really is so unique how we all prepare ourselves and actually what it take every individual to feel prepared. There is no right and wrong way and when I’ve tried to advise people on public speaking, that’s a hard message to get across. They all expect there’s a handbook and everybody prepare’s the same way. Not so. What works for you is what works best and that’s all that matters!

    Thanks everyone.

    Best always,
    – Peter

  7. Exactly why I don’t “Lay-read” at church. I will do a quick “Top Hour ID” at the drop of a hat, though.

  8. You know Bill I tried doing traffic and weather together on the 10’s just before the gospel readings but all I got was strange looks.

    People just don’t seem to appreciate timely information they way they used to! 😉

    Best always,
    – Peter