It’s literally frightening what people can say when they speak without first rehearsing. Take a look at some of my favourite ‘Bushisms’:
“I remember meeting a mother of a child who was abducted by the North Koreans right here in the Oval Office”
“We’re concerned about Aids inside our White House – make no mistake about it”
So many people say they are not as good at public speaking as they should be. When I quiz them I often find that they throw together their presentation at the last minute and rarely rehearse. Exceptional presenters rehearse. And they rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. “But,” said a participant in one of my programs last month, “Seinfeld doesn’t rehearse, he does those jokes off the cuff.” Really? Are you sure? Most comedians I know put an extraordinary amount of effort into their comedy and they rehearse the same skit or line over and over so that their voice, body language, and facial expressions are congruent and make it as funny as possible. They rehearse so that they achieve their objective. As presenters, we should do the same. Why? Because exceptional presenters rehearse!
If you are nervous about going blank or waffling on or getting pulled ‘off track’ by strong audience members, and if you’re keen to come across as a confident, engaging and compelling presenter, it’s a good idea to warm up your mind or rehearse prior to presenting.
A typical executive who engages me to coach them would rehearse (especially their opening and close) between 50 and 100 times for important events. The more you run through your presentation, the clearer and more seamless your delivery and the more you will embed your message.
Rehearsing is where you run through the key messages over and over again, so you embed the general ‘gist’ of your message (and sometimes the result is that you will end up, almost accidentally, committing some of the parts of your message to memory). Whilst you may inadvertently memorise some of your content, you’ll find with rehearsal that you will deliver most of your message in a different way each time and the result is that you will sound more natural. I am guessing that you are too busy in your life to try and completely rote learn your presentations prior to delivery.
How should you rehearse?
I suggest you find a variety of places to practice your presentations. The greater number of locations you rehearse in, the more comfortable you will feel presenting in the actual location of your presentation — no matter where it is. Book a variety of meeting rooms over the course of a week at work; have a few turns in front of your bathroom mirror at home; go out into the garden for a practice if you can; and then try delivering your message in a variety of other rooms in your home. I know, it sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? Well, it works!
Here are other noteworthy tips for you as you rehearse for your next public speech:
1. Get up and do it! Stand up and deliver the presentation out loud as if it’s the real thing.
2. Don’t rote learn it – Use different words every time you rehearse. Don’t try to memorise every single word – just be sure to get the ‘gist’ of it each time.
3. Rehearse your opening and close – Spend more time on the opening and close as this is where you’ll embed your key messages for an audience. The opening is also where you feel most nervous so if you’ve rehearsed this part a lot you’ll get off to a nice strong start. You know your content (the body of the presentation) and the body or middle is also where you have slides typically to help you, so the opening and close is where you should focus your rehearsal.
One of the Executives I work with rehearses as she walks between meetings in the city. She’s admitted that people stare at her but she says she doesn’t care if it helps her nail that million dollar pitch!
4. Do it in front of people – Many of my clients collect a group of key stakeholders from different teams to be their audience. For example, someone from each of the following: sales, customer service, marketing, human resources, accounts, technical. Each person will give feedback from their area of expertise which makes for some very helpful solutions for improvement.
5. Rehearse the questions – Brainstorm all the questions you think you’ll have to answer and be sure to plan and rehearse the answer in advance. Ask your audience to ask you your planned questions as well as any other questions they can think of when you rehearse in front of them.
6. Do it to time. The cardinal sin of public speakers is going over time. It’s self indulgent and makes life hard for the next presenter. As a general rule you should almost double the time it takes to practice. That means if your presentation takes 10 minutes to rehearse it will generally end up going for about 20 minutes with questions and the usual interaction that occurs in a presentation (unless you are experienced at rehearsing ‘real time’). So rehearse your presentation with this tip in mind and don’t go over your allotted time frame.
7. Do it on tape – It’s a great idea to record yourself a couple of times. The new Kodak Zi8 Pocket Video Camera is easy to use. You can immediately connect to a computer via its USB port to analyse yourself. You’ll see the things you should keep doing and the things you should change or stop. And by the way, consider taping the actual presentation if it’s possible so you can congratulate yourself on your achievements!
8. If all else fails record yourself and play it into your ears while you sleep – this may sound awful! And to be honest I wouldn’t do it – but then I’m a very diligent ‘rehearser!’ A friend of mine who is a professional speaker simply can’t make herself rehearse – she says it’s too boring and she can’t make herself focus. So instead she records herself and listens to it while she sleeps and this is what helps her remember her content. It’s not for everyone – but may work for you.
Rehearsing is critical! Exceptional presenters rehearse. Good luck rehearsing your next presentation.
© Michelle Bowden 2020. Michelle Bowden is an authority on presentation & persuasion in business. Michelle is a CSP (the highest designation for speakers in the world), co-creator of the PRSI (a world-first psychometric indicator that tests your persuasiveness at work), best-selling internationally published author (Wiley), and a regular commentator in print, radio and online media. www.michellebowden.com.au