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
Here are my 8 guidelines for perfect practice:
- Practice out loud.
Say the presentation out loud; three to six times should do it.
- Practice with variety.
Every time you say your presentation, say it differently – the goal is to keep it conversational, not memorize exact phrases.
- Be aware of timing.
Leave time in your practice session for audience interaction, questions, etc.
- 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.”
- 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.
- Spend more time on the speech opening and closing.
Practice your opening and close more frequently – commute time is great for this.
- 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.
- 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.”