This week we’re going to talk about everybody’s favourite part of presenting: rehearsal. You didn’t think we were going to skip this step, did you? Rehearsal is one of the most important components to presenting with confidence. It’s also the step that everybody prefers to avoid. Here’s why you should always rehearse a presentation.
Before jumping into the practicalities, let’s take a look at some of the mental roadblocks that prevent us from rehearsing in the first place. I know, you’ve got a million reasons why you don’t need to rehearse. I can guarantee you that over the course of my career I’ve heard every single one of them.
Common Excuses To Avoid Rehearsal
For one thing, it feels embarrassing to speak out loud without an audience. The excuse I hear the most is: “I want my content to sound fresh and unscripted.” To be clear, the point of rehearsal isn’t to memorize a script. It’s to get on top of your main messages. The likelihood of your being over-rehearsed is far lower than not being prepared well enough. This is especially true when using visual aids to amplify your message.
Slides can be a powerful way to convey ideas, so long as they don’t become a crutch. Don’t even get me started on the misuse of slides in presentations! This is such a big problem that we’ve dedicated an entire video to what not to do when presenting with slides.
Another excuse I hear a lot is lack of time to rehearse. I get it. We’re all busy. Especially with the additional responsibilities that come with remote working and home schooling and socializing online. You can certainly go ahead and wing your presentation. We’ve all done it. I’ve done it. But it’s a gamble. You may knock your presentation out of the park, or you may crash and burn.
Rehearsal doesn’t guarantee a pitch-perfect presentation. What it will do is provide a baseline for knowing your content and projecting confidence. The question to ask yourself is: how big a gamble can I afford to take with this presentation?
Now that we’ve seen some of the excuses we use to avoid rehearsing, let’s take a look at the benefits, as well as some ways to ease into this practice if it’s uncomfortable for you.
Rehearsing Refines Your Content
One of the most important reasons to rehearse is that it helps refine your content. When you speak written messages out loud, you’re more likely to notice the bumps. Sometimes an idea sounds great on paper, but when you say it out loud, the message doesn’t land as well.
Written and verbal communication are completely different forms. A powerful essay is unlikely to have the same impact when read directly from the page. Films are adapted from books for a reason.
When speaking out loud, the best presenters use less words. They incorporate facial expression, tone of voice, body language, strategic pauses, and visual aids to set the tone. Rehearsing is a great way to put these building blocks into place before you share important content with an audience.
Repetition and Muscle Memory
In dance and sport we repeat motions over and over again. We do this to build muscle memory, so that a movement becomes second nature. The same principle applies to your presentation. When you practice a presentation, you no longer have to think about your milestones. The whole thing comes a lot more naturally.
This frees up mental space for the million other things you have going on in the background—especially in remote presentations where you’ve got technical variables to consider. For instance, there might be background noise in your remote workspace. You probably have people messaging you in the chat room. There are lighting and audio and background considerations. The more mental space you have free, the better you will be able to stay on track amidst all of that multi-tasking.
Ultimately, rehearsing builds confidence. When you know your milestones in a presentation, it’s like having a map to guide you. If at any point you get lost, you can quickly find your way back.
Have Fun When Rehearsing
Rehearsal sounds so official when, really, all it requires is that you say your presentation out loud a few times. This can actually be fun if you don’t take yourself too seriously. To get started, you could try speaking into a mirror. (I have to admit this is my least favorite rehearsal tactic, though a lot of people find it quite effective.)
For a remote presentation you could set up a mock videoconference call and give it a test run. Try recording your delivery and analyzing your performance. Athletes do this all the time. This way they see what went well and where they need to improve, so that they’re ready for game day.
Another rehearsal tactic is to practice with a family member. If you really want honest feedback, try presenting to your spouse or kids. You’ll get all the feedback you need—and more.
At the very least, speak your presentation out loud. In doing so, you’ll notice that words in your head don’t always come out as you might expect. Speaking your messages out loud gives a better idea of the stumbles. Plus this helps you refine the pacing.
If you want to deliver a top-notch presentation, do yourself a favour and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. This way you’ll get the bugs out before you get onstage, or in front of the camera.