Article Category: Speaker Habits

8 Key Points for Perfect Presentation Practice


When it comes to presenting, does practice make perfect?

In a word, no.

Practice makes permanent.

Your goal should be to practice perfectly, not just practice. The more you do something, the more comfortable it feels – whether right or wrong.

So, we need to do it right when we practice our presentations.

Knowing a subject doesn’t guarantee success. The ability to articulate the message and connect with audience members is what counts – and perfect practice can make this happen.

Practice Works for Me…

A personal example that proves perfect practice works is a recent sales presentation that I was asked to deliver regarding BRODY Professional Development’s capabilities.

After structuring my presentation, I first presented it to one of my account managers. She had a few suggestions, including that I start with a story.

After I updated my presentation, I practiced it with one of our facilitators who came to the meeting with me. She suggested that I make the presentation more interactive and more responsive to the client’s specific needs and worked with me to do that. We also practiced ways that she could facilitate some of the discussion. Our practice not only included segues between the two of us – to ensure they were smooth — but also practice related to our timing. We even discussed where we would each be sitting in the room to get the maximum involvement from the audience! During our car ride to the client site in New York, we practiced it three more times.

When we arrived, we were ready, we had anticipated their questions, the timing worked, and best news of all — we got results (we made the sale)!

… Practice Will Work for You Too

Winging a presentation rarely gets the desired results. Here is the approach that works for me – dare I say – 100% of the time.

My assumption is that you have done the preparation:

  • Know your PAL™ (Purpose, Audience & Logistics).
  • Collect current, accurate and relevant information.
  • Add examples, stories, emotional appeals, and some visuals when critical, to support the data.
  • Organize materials so there is a logical flow of content, with smooth transitions connecting the ideas – creating a story.
  • Have a strong opening and close already written
  • Create a user-friendly final draft, making it easy to reference without reading it.

Frequently, presenters do all of the above, and then think through the presentation in their minds – where we are all eloquent.

Visualizing is great, but it doesn’t replace the actual out-loud practice.

Too frequently, practice is left until close to the date of a presentation – when it’s too late.

The goal of practice sessions is to get presenters totally comfortable with the content, the slides, and the timing – so, when they actually present, they are able to concentrate on connecting with the audience.

8 Guidelines for Presentation Practice

Visualizing is great, but it doesn’t replace the actual out-loud practice.

Here are my 8 guidelines for perfect practice:

  1. Practice out loud.
    Say the presentation out loud; three to six times should do it.
  2. Practice with variety.
    Every time you say your presentation, say it differently – the goal is to keep it conversational, not memorize exact phrases.
  3. Be aware of timing.
    Leave time in your practice session for audience interaction, questions, etc.
  4. Practice in front of a real audience, similar to your target audience.
    Practice in front of people who are similar to the “real audience.” If there are words that you are using they don’t get, or concepts that aren’t clear, it’s better to find out in front of this group, rather than the “real audience.”
  5. Incorporate spontaneous Q&A into your practice.
    If you anticipate getting questions, or being interrupted during the presentation, make sure your practice audience is doing the same.
  6. Spend more time on the speech opening and closing.
    Practice your opening and close more frequently – commute time is great for this.
  7. Practice your timing.
    If the entire presentation is to last for 30 minutes, the practice should go no longer than 18 to 25 minutes, depending on the amount of interaction or questions you anticipate.
  8. Practice by recording yourself.
    If they are very critical presentations, videotape yourself. The new Kodak Zi8 Pocket Video Camera is easy to use. You can immediately connect to a computer via its USB port to analyze yourself.
    A good question to ask is, “Would I want to sit through this?”
    If the answer is, “No,” then what do you need to do to change the presentation?

An executive who I coach from a large pharmaceutical industry, had a large “town hall” type of meeting coming up — to introduce company policy changes. He knew that the audience would be anxious, and in some cases, hostile. When we first discussed the outline for his presentation, it was very data driven. In no way was he getting in touch with the emotions that people were feeling. Once we changed the structure of his presentation, he began to practice, and “own” the material. After the meeting, he told me that due to this practice, he was comfortable in the delivery, totally in the moment – resonating both emotionally and psychologically with the audience. He now insists that all of his direct reports use the eight practice guidelines that I coached him on.

From my perspective, practice isn’t fun. But, there is no substitute for it.

Keep in mind what Peter Drucker said, “Spontaneity is an infinite number of rehearsed possibilities.”

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Comments icon7 Comments

  1. @RABotha says:

    Well said. I also preach that “practice don’t make perfect, it makes permanent”. What makes perfect is reflective practice – thinking about what one did wrong, could do differently, can do better, which slides did not work, where did you have difficulty remembering what you wanted to say, what took too long, too short, etc. Your eight tips encapsulate this reflection nicely. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for this clear and highly useful practice guideline. I am excited to share it in my circles. I particularly like the emphasis on practicing differently each time as I have found that be be useful both for flexibility during the talk and also for discovering better ways to say things during the practice sessions that I can integrate into the “final” version.
    About watching my own videos, though – I often find that after I practice and prepare a lot, watching my own talk can feel less exciting than it is for others who are seeing it for the first time. While I worry that the talk is boring because I already know what I will say next, I get the feedback from others that it is not boring at all. So, for those who might see their video and find it less interesting than they would like, possibly they are in that same situation. It’s good to ask for feedback from people who will be honest with you about your talk and weigh that feedback in with your own feelings after watching the video. Thanks again for a really great post, Marjorie.

  3. Glenn says:

    In my experience, the amount of practice time is directly related to the success of my presentation. This is excellent.

    Thanks.

  4. Marjorie
    Very comprehensive and valuable tips. If business presenters would follow your advice we would witness much better presenters. I agree with your practice makes permanent. In a recent Toastmasters conference in Shanghai we had many speakers touch on a similar point.

    All the best,
    Warwick John Fahy
    Author, The One Minute Presenter

    Related article:
    See how business presenters can use lessons from the world of theater to enhance their rehearsals :
    http://www.oneminutepresenter.com/2010/05/theater-rehearsals-what-executive-presenters-must-know-part-5-of-5/

  5. Two things to add.
    1. When you practice don’t look for perfection, look for peace. Perfection is not only impossible, but its pursuit is soul destroying for many speakers. Instead practice until you start to feel that subtle state of ‘flow’ – when you’re really on a roll, enjoying yourself. The statement “practice isn’t fun” is exactly the sort of erroneous thinking that turns too many people off public speaking.
    2. The internet provides a great resource for practicing speaking. Most people don’t practice anywhere near enough to get over their fear of public speaking in a reasonable time frame (like one human lifespan). Even in Toastmasters we only get one speech every month or two (unless you join multiple clubs with the consequent money and time penalties). That’s why I made it easy by creating a section on my site where you can submit your videos and invite others to critique (moderated so only 100% constructive comments appear). This way you can practice as often as you need, in front of your virtual audience, and get the feedback to help you polish your act. Or of course you can use it as a gentle way to get past your speaking fears – it’s kinda like the interim step between your bathroom mirror and a seething audience of real live humans!

  6. As a fairly new Toastmaster, I found your article on Presentation Skills to be excellent. Practicing new skills is an art and you have outlined the steps thoroughly and concisely. Thank you!

  7. Steven J Fromm says:

    Thanks for these tips Marjorie. Having a plan to a speaking engagement and practicing it would seem to make a big difference and of course give me confidence for the presentation. I got a lot out of your post. Thank you.

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PresentingAway @presentingaway — Mar 16th, 2012

8 Key Points for Perfect Presentation Practice http://t.co/pkrz3BJZ

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Speaking tip: Improve by practicing and recording yourself. More practice tips here: http://t.co/kIbUqTFe via @6minutes

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