You’ll hear it often: the key to successful business presenting is preparation. A huge part of that preparation is effectively practicing your presentation. The important word there is ‘effectively’. Rehearsing is a skill, and bad rehearsal can be as damaging as none because it locks in bad habits and tricks us into thinking we’re ready.
Practice Good Practice
It’s very tempting to think muttering through the notes a few times will get us on top of a presentation, but the reality of standing up in front of colleagues or clients is much different. There’s a kind of sucking silence created by a room full of people listening politely. Under that kind of pressure an unprepared mind can go blank.
3 Things That Don’t Work
There are plenty of tried and true ways to fail at practicing. Perhaps you’ll recognise a few of them?
Shower Karaoke:Popular with multitaskers, you murmur the main points as you soap yourself down. This is excellent for physical hygiene because it keeps you in the shower longer, but your presentation will go down the drain with the suds. Here are the problems with it: your brain likes to make associations between thoughts, feelings and environments. It builds memories around these associations. Your attempt to make memories in the shower will ensure all future showers are haunted by ghosts of presentations past, but unless you’re sniffing your bodywash in the boardroom you won’t have formed any useful memory triggers to help you.
Commute:The car feels like a safe space. In the car nobody can hear you scream, which is why you said all those things to the truck that cut you off. It seems like an excellent place to chat through your main points with yourself. But like the shower, your focus is not fully on the material, or at least, the other road users hope it’s not. Your brain is only partially available, your voice is unlikely to be at the level you’re intending to use in the boardroom, and your foot pumping the brake pedal won’t slow down a crashing presentation.
Not rehearsing because you can probably wing it:Maybe you can. How much do you want to bet? Do you want to bet the entire outcome of this presentation?
These are just a few of the most common bad rehearsal habits. They’re understandable, because our brains shy away from feeling weird and uncomfortable, the way we might feel rehearsing our presentations aloud. Just this once, don’t listen to your brain. Listen to us.
5 Things That Work
Take genuine, deserved self-belief into the room with you. Here’s how.
Rehearse the Reality:Get on your feet. If you can be in the same room as the presentation is going to be in, great, get in there. Practice the presentation, as loud as you mean to present it, standing exactly as you mean to stand. Do it at least three times all the way through, including your intro and outro. This is doing the opposite to the shower practice: it’s forming useful associations between mind, voice and body, so that the presentation will feel comfortable and familiar.
Adjust as you go:Out loud is when you start to hear problems with clarity, or you find out that it’s really hard to say the words ‘Success seeds success’ so you should look at rewriting that. Especially focus on rehearsing the opening, giving yourself time to refine it as needed. If your opening is working well, the rest tends to fall into place. A well-rehearsed opening will help you relax into the presentation, acting like a warm up for you and your confidence.
Gather a mock audience:For a high stakes presentation, get some peers to watch you present a final draft. Allow at least 24 hours before the presentation so that you can implement any changes that come out of the feedback. If you can’t gather your peers, try videoing yourself with your laptop’s webcam or your smartphone. Note what your body is trying to do to sabotage you. Are your feet shuffling? Are you clutching at your notes? Watch yourself and adjust your pace, your clarity, and that weird thing you’re doing with your hands.
Points of Concentration:For each rehearsal, choose one point of concentration that you’re going to work on. In the beginning, it can be making sure you communicate your objective clearly, but as you get comfortable with the material, do a run-through where you concentrate on reducing Ums and Ahs, then one on keeping your feet still, then one on remembering to breathe between phrases so you stay relaxed and avoid any unprofessional fainting episodes.
Practice with your tech:Clickers, slides, mics, presenter tools. If you’re using a different laptop make sure your embedded media has come over with your PowerPoint. Know what to do if things go wrong, and have a backup plan.
These techniques will ensure that you’re spending your rehearsal time getting quality practice done. The Pickering Group’s Presentation Skills courses and coaching can help you make the most of your preparation time. We provide assessment, guidance and templates to improve your performance and help you maximise your effectiveness as a speaker. Effective preparation is the groundwork that supports and frees your own trust in your abilities. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for inspiring and informative content, or learn more about our courses and coaching here.