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Practice makes near perfect

How many times do you typically practice a presentation before you deliver it? Be honest.

If your answer is “I’m lucky to practice once” then you’ll be joining the majority of those who filled out my course pre-attendee survey. Yep, most others practice only once, or not at all, before a big presentation. And frankly, it can show.

I get it; other work leaves little time to prepare well for speaking encounters. With so many competing priorities, getting the content right while still allowing enough time to practice seems almost inconceivable.

You may be hoping that this article is going to let you off the hook or give you some hack that means you don’t have to put the time in either. You’re going to be disappointed.

The bottom line is that “I don’t have time” is a bullshit excuse. You’re aiming to have an impact and influence with your ideas, but you’re not giving your presentation its due as a top priority.

I've seen it play out far too many times – and for high-stakes events like conferences too. We’ve arrived at the dress rehearsal. The big day is just around the corner. And speakers are still using the time to flesh out their slides. They haven’t come remotely prepared to… well, rehearse!

There is so much that feeds into a fantastic conference. I approach it like I would a drama production – the stage manager, a director and the actors all poised for their cue. But whether you’re presenting to that magnitude, or just want to nail your sales presentation, how do you make sure you’re optimally prepared?

  1. Leave yourself a week to practice

A week to plan, a week to prepare and a week to practice is my general rule for any big speaking gig. Sometimes you might not have that long, but follow this guide and make sure you build in time to be doing a good few run-throughs.

  1. Keep it conversational

If possible, avoid following a script or reciting your presentation verbatim. Instead, if you plan your presentation around your key points you’re more likely to spark an authentic and friendly conversation, which can be more effective than approaching each presentation as a stiff and formal speech.

  1. Yes, notes are allowed

You’re only human and nerves sometimes get to even the best of us. Have a quick key point summary somewhere you can glance at – perhaps in the note section of your PowerPoint. Keep them bold and brief. You can also download my note structure template here.

  1. Practice in chunks

You don’t need to run through the entire presentation each time to practice effectively. Run through your intro as many times as you feel appropriate and iterate each time, it does wonders for your memory too.

  1. Use a timer

No matter how compelling you are, no one likes a presentation that runs overtime. If you have a 30 min slot, leave 10 minutes spare for Q&A. If you finish early, perfect! Communicating your ideas succinctly and efficiently is the sign of good preparation.

Where possible, try to do a solid run-through in the environment that you’ll be presenting in too. A presentation becomes 30% better after each of the first three run-throughs. If you do the math, practising at least three times will make it near-perfect. It's up to you to carve out the time.



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