Rehearsing is the ugly, unloved stepchild of presentation prep. Few people like it and many don’t do it at all. I suspect a coincidence...
But it’s a crucial step in your prep no matter how ugly and painful it might be. Why? Because you’ve been immersed in the trees while designing and developing your content and you need to get out and see the forest before you step on stage.
To bring your very best on the podium, I recommend the following Rehearsal phases:
Acknowledge the Resistance
The first and very important phase in the rehearsal process is to acknowledge the serious resistance you likely have to rehearsing at all. Often acknowledging the resistance, and often the underlying anxiety associated with delivering the presentation, can make it easier to get into action. Consider the buddy system and ask a friend sit in on your dry run. A test audience will bring accountability and humanity to the exercise—they can build you up when you inevitability beat yourself up.
Do a Topline Talk Through
Once you’ve looked resistance square in the hairy eyeball, it’s time to do a topline talk through. Look at your presentation in the Slide Sorter view in your presentation software and do a “talk through”. Talk through the main points you’re planning to cover on each slide but don’t present them in detail. Don’t do this in your head—talk it through out loud. This allows you to see (and hear) the broader narrative and confirm that it’s the one you want to share. If it’s not, or something is missing, you will quickly find the parts of your presentation that need to be tweaked.
Eat Your Speech
Present the content out loud sitting down with your notes right in front of you and rely on them heavily. This is where you’re going to find out that some of the language and turns of phrase you’ve chosen work really well in writing but they don’t work at all in your mouth. (I choked on “predilection” last week while rehearsing and chose ”predisposition” instead.) You’ll discover which parts are dense and dragging and which parts need some more embellishment with examples. This is an essential step because you’re getting to know your presentation well and “eating your speech” to the point where you won’t have to rely on your notes.
Add The Magic
Once you’ve eaten your speech, start to focus more on the delivery and the storytelling, relying less and less on your notes with each run through. This is the step where you think about and add relevant gestures, pauses, audience interaction and rhetorical questions. This is when you start adding the magic.
Tackle the Top and Tail
If you don’t have time to rehearse your entire presentation, rehearse the first few minutes and the last few minutes. Speakers are most uncomfortable at the beginning because they’re not yet talking about their subject matter expertise and they’re managing pent up anxiety. Practice the first two minutes of your talk 3 – 5 times. That is 10 minutes of your life very well spent. It’s much better to spend 10 minutes rehearsing the top of your presentation than to spend those 10 minutes mucking about with your slides. The former delivers massive returns, the latter marginal. Yes, I know, messing with slides is more comfortable than rehearsing, but rehearsing will make you more comfortable on the podium.
And you need to figure out how to close. Don’t build momentum and then grind to a halt. Summarize the top three most relevant ideas you presented that address your audience’s pressing needs. Consider one final story that will illustrate the benefit of the overall approach you are advocating and drive home the Call to Action. Close strong.
Make sure you take advantage of all the time and energy you’ve invested in researching your audience, setting your objectives and designing your content. Don’t let it all that good work go to waste because you don’t make the time to rehearse.
Because that’s like going to the beach without a bathing suit: you can do it, but it’s not recommended.