A successful presentation requires you to devote much more time to preparing your presentation than you will spend in delivering it. Even experienced speakers must prepare for a presentation; this includes rehearsal. My friend and colleague, Rob Biesenbach names inadequate rehearsal as one of the “11 Deadly Presentation Sins.” In his recent book with this title, Rob provides these strategies to help you prepare for your presentation:
So How Long Should You Rehearse?
by Rob Biesenbach
I love to ask this question of audiences: “For a one-hour speech, how many hours of rehearsal do experts recommend?”
The guessing usually starts at five hours. And each time I call out “higher,” people’s eyes get wider. Ten? Fifteen? Twenty? When we finally land on 30 hours, they don’t quite believe it.
But that’s the recommendation of one of the foremost experts in the business, Nancy Duarte. Thirty hours to rehearse a one-hour speech. (And that doesn’t include creating the content and the slides, by the way. Throw in another 60 hours for all that!)
Now, if you’re in the unfortunate position of delivering several different PowerPoint presentations a week, you’re not going to have that kind of time.
But if it’s a really big speech—an important opportunity, such as an annual meeting for shareholders or employees or salespeople, or an address before a big industry or professional group—then you’re going to want to invest some serious time rehearsing.
Know your stuff. Know it backward, know it forward, know it sideways. Think of every hole in your argument, every possible objection, and be prepared to answer them—either in the presentation itself or in the Q&A.
Knowing your subject cold will boost your confidence immensely. In fact, I’ve found that the number-one cure for stage fright is mastery of your material.
Internalize, Don’t Memorize
If you try to memorize your presentation word for word, you will come across as stilted. (Unless you’re a good actor!)
And you’re more likely to get tripped up as you grasp for the precise phrasing you’ve scripted.
It’s better instead to “internalize.” Break up your presentation into bite-sized chunks, one idea or point at a time. Get to know each one. Go over it in your head again and again. Don’t worry about the specific words; just get the gist down.
Then start melding these chunks together, one section of the speech at a time. Practice it whenever you have down time—in the car, in the shower, at the gym.
You may never say it quite the same way twice, which is the whole point. When you’ve got the core of it internalized, you can deliver it with confidence while still leaving room to play around the edges—ultimately producing that feeling of an authentic, on-the-spot performance.
One important tip: your speech is going to be a lot easier to internalize if it’s written in your own true voice—the way you speak in everyday conversation. If you’re not comfortable with rhetorical flights of fancy, it’s better to stay grounded.
Practice on Your Own—Out Loud
A speech is meant to be delivered aloud, so you absolutely must practice it out loud. Seriously. If you attempt to do it all in your head, sitting in front of your computer screen, you might as well not bother.
Get up on your feet and perform it as you would onstage. This will help you catch and unravel long-winded sentences and tongue twisters early on.
It’s also the only way to get a true sense of how long the presentation is. And you definitely want to adhere to the time limits you’ve been given. Running over your allotted time is unforgivable.
In fact, you should plan to come in under the assigned time. No audience member ever left a speech saying, “Man, I wish that presentation had been longer!”
Finally, I find practicing aloud helps me identify weak spots. When I sense things are dragging and I get bored, I make cuts.
Practice in Front of Others
A speech is nothing without an audience, so it’s a good idea to test your material in front of people beforehand. Ideally it should be work colleagues or industry peers—people who are knowledgeable about the subject matter and the target audience.
But if you trust friends or family members to give you honest, constructive feedback, that will work, too.
If you can, perform it a couple of times at different stages of development. And really perform it, just as you would onstage. Believe me, nobody wants to watch you halfheartedly phone it in. And that doesn’t help your preparation either.
Take note of your audience’s reactions. What seems to work? What doesn’t? Are there places where you’ll want to pause? Points you want to hit harder? Get their feedback.
Just be careful: if a certain line gets a big laugh or response with your test audience, don’t assume it will happen at show time, too. No two audiences are alike, and pausing expectantly for a laugh that never comes is pretty awkward.
The absolute best way to become aware of your tics and habits, both physical and verbal, is to watch yourself on video.
The camera does not lie. In fact, it can be downright brutal.
At the same time, understand that video can only approximate what actually happens in the room. It captures just two dimensions, so it can’t convey the energy or chemistry of the moment or what the audience is doing.
So don’t beat yourself up too much. You’re probably not as bad as you think. Use video mainly as a tool for spotting technical issues with your performance.
Rob Biesenbach is an independent corporate communications pro, actor, author and speaker. He is a former VP at Ogilvy PR Worldwide and press secretary to the Ohio Attorney General, and has written hundreds of speeches for CEOs and other executives. He is also a Second City trained actor who has appeared in more than 150 stage, commercial and film productions in the past decade. His first book, Act Like You Mean Business: Essential Communication Lessons from Stage and Screen, was published in 2011 by Brigantine Media. His latest book, 11 Deadly Presentation Sins offers a path to redemption for public speakers, PowerPoint users, and anyone who has to get up and speak in front of an audience. For more information visit: http://robbiesenbach.com
Thank you Rob!
“You have to master technique, in order to abandon it.” – Robert Fripp
“How to Rehearse for Your Talk,” “Is Your Audience Hearing What You Want to Communicate?,” and “Public Speaking – Why Rehearse?” are just three of the many complimentary resources on Fripp.com to help you prepare for your presentation.
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