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Top Tips for Rehearsing your Presentations

It’s literally frightening what people can say when they speak without first rehearsing. Former US President George W Bush was famous for saying some bizarre things when he went ‘off script’!  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.

What is rehearsing?

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.

Rehearsing is saying it out loud in a variety of different rooms so that you get good at saying it in a variety of different places. 

What is NOT rehearsing?

Rote learning is not rehearsing. Rote learning is where you memorise the words in the exact order. Unless you’re an actor who knows how to rote learn your lines, or you’ve got weeks and weeks to get it perfect – this won’t work for you.

Rehearsing is not reading your script on the train in your head. That’s reading, and for most it won’t help you actually remember what to say next on the day.

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.

 

When you stand up and say the presentation out loud you become aware of better ways to say things.

 

Standing up and saying it out loud also gives you a sense of your body and movement – this will help you gesture correctly to reinforce your points and stand in the correct spots for different parts of your delivery.

Picture of woman rehearsing in Michelle Bowden's article on top tips for rehearsing your presentation
What not to do: don't rote learn your presentation from presentation skills trainer Michelle Bowden

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.

 

Memorised information is typically retained for a shorter period compared to information learned through understanding and application.

 

And unfortunately rote learning can lead to you going blank because if you just forget one word, the memorising function in your brain tells you that you’ve just messed up, your brain identifies an error and panic can set in.

Don’t rote learn it!

3. Rehearse your opening and close – when you start strong you’ll be a winner!

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.

An Executive I do presentation skills coaching with actually rehearses as she walks between meetings in the city of Sydney. She’s admitted that people stare at her but she says she doesn’t care if it helps her nail that million dollar pitch!

Picture of person on the starting line in Michelle Bowden's article on top tips for rehearsing your presentation
Picture of conference presenter in Michelle Bowden's blog about Presentation Skills Tip: Creating Messages That Stick!

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, invite someone from each of the following: sales, customer service, marketing, human resources, accounts, technical to give you their feedback.

 

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 answers in advance.

Rehearse moving swiftly and professionally to the correct slide in your appendix – if you’ve created slides to address possible questions. 

 

Also ask your rehearsal audience to ask you your planned questions as well as any other questions they can think of when you rehearse in front of them.

 

You’ll be surprised at how much extra info you get when others become involved.

Picture of light bulb in Michelle Bowden's article on tech talk: mastering the art of presenting technical information
Picture of clock in Michelle Bowden's article on top tips for rehearsing your presentation

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.

 

Our smart phones make this such an easy option.

 

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!

Picture of woman recording herself presenting in Michelle Bowden's article on top tips for rehearsing your presentation
Picture of woman listening to herself presenting in Michelle Bowden's article on top tips for rehearsing your presentation

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.

Whatever works right?

Rehearsing is critical! Exceptional presenters rehearse. Good luck rehearsing your next presentation.  Happy presenting! 

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©2024 MICHELLE BOWDEN is an authority on persuasive presenting in business. She’s run her Persuasive Presentation Skills Masterclass over 995 times for more than 13,000 people over the past 25 years and her name is a synonym for ‘presentation skills’ in Australia.

Michelle is a multi-million-dollar pitch coach to her client list that reads like a who’s who of international business: banking and finance, IT, pharmaceutical, retail, telecommunications plus many more.

Michelle is the creator of the Persuasion Smart Profile®, a world-first psychological assessment tool that reports on your persuasive strengths and weaknesses at work, the twice best-selling internationally published author of How to Present: the ultimate guide to presenting live and online (Wiley) and How to Persuade: the skills you need to get what you want (Wiley).

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