I can feel much more confident stepping up onto stage if I’ve just recently run through the material.
There’s no one thing that has helped the way I deliver a presentation more than the simple act of practising. It sounds so obvious, but I’ve been surprised to hear from speakers who don’t really do this so much. The temptation is to think that you really know your material simply from all the long hours spent putting the presentation together, and that therefore practise isn’t necessary. Or that it’s something you probably should do, but don’t actually.
There’s something magical that seams to happen when you stand up out of your chair and rehearse delivering a presentation. Whether it’s the impact of using a different part of your brain to actually vocalise what you’ve spent so long writing about, or if it’s just hearing the words and how they flow, there’s a lot to be gained.
As a development tool, I find that running through a presentation out loud gives me a sense of the pacing and structure. If a section feels like it’s dragging or a transition between two sections feels jarring, this becomes much more obvious as you deliver the presentation in real time. It can also show up any holes left by editing - if parts are subtly out of sequence, or if you’ve dropped a key point and forgotten to put it back in, those sorts of things show up clearly as you listen to yourself.
As a confidence tool, rehearsing helps you to commit each part of your presentation to memory. That really helps when you step out on stage and have a lot more to think about than just what’s on the next slide.
With that in mind, here’s a few simple ways you can go about rehearsing your presentation.
Run through, for real, out loud
The simplest way to rehearse is to shut yourself in a room on your own, start a timer, and deliver your presentation to no one. Out loud. Yes, you’ll feel ridiculous.
I usually try to do this a few hours before I present for real, as it acts as a really great refresher of the structure of the presentation. I can feel much more confident stepping up onto stage if I’ve just recently run through the material.
If I’ve travelled to the event, I usually shut myself in my hotel room and have a good old chat with the mirror. Most hotel TVs have an HDMI input on them, so if you bring a cable along, you can even hook up your slides!
If I’m feeling nervous in that last-minute run through, I’ll usually practice the opening section a few times. It can really help get over the nerves of the first few minutes on stage if the material is fresh in your mind.
Torture your friends and co-workers
Another good way to practise is to give a version of your presentation to some friends or co-workers. That might just be a case of grabbing a couple of trusted colleagues to bring their lunch into a conference room and chomp while you chat. It usually helps to have more than one person, as presenting to a single person in a confined room gets strange quickly.
Another way to do it, especially if you think you’re pretty much ready to go, is to put out a general invitation and run your presentation at your workplace for anyone who’s interested to attend. Tell them it’s a preview of your talk that you hope they’ll find interesting, but also to help you polish your delivery. Your colleagues should be at least somewhat invested in you doing a good job and so may come to offer support and hopefully learn something new.
Either way, do seek out feedback and find out where you can improve and what edits you should make to the timing and structure.
This has the potential to be a bit cringy, but if you don’t have anyone to watch you present, watch yourself. We all have mobile phones that will do a great job of shooting a simple video, so prop your phone up, hit record and deliver your presentation.
Once you’re done, watch it back. How does it sound to you? Are you doing or saying anything that’s distracting or annoying? It’s going to be hard to watch, so accept that it’ll look worse to you than to anyone else!
When you’ve learned all you think you’re going to learn from it, feel free to delete.
Do a warm-up gig
We’ve written here on the blog before how [practise makes perfect] (https://be.noti.st/2018/practice-makes-perfect) when it comes to refining a presentation over time. If you’ve got a big event coming up with a new presentation you’d like to smooth the edges on, consider giving it somewhere else beforehand.
This is a common technique for performers such as musicians and stand-up comedians before going on tour. They’ll book one or more low-profile gigs and use them to practise new material and make sure everything’s ready before stepping up onto the larger stages.
In Start Small we discussed speaking at places like informal meet-up groups. These are great places to use as a warm-up, as the stakes are low and the audience tends to be supportive and friendly.
Wherever you choose to practise, be it at home alone or in front of a crowd, remember to listen to yourself and to seek any feedback that’s available at the end. A combination of those two things will really help you to hone your presentation and feel confident in the material for that next big event.
Advent speaker tips: this is part of a series of tips for public speakers that we’re posting throughout advent. Check back daily during December for more.