Would you be surprised to hear that practicing a presentation is as important as the words you actually share? And that you should spend as much time rehearsing your speech as you did creating your presentation?
The presenters you admire—the ones that seem so at ease with their effortless delivery—appear polished because of the amount of time they invest in practicing their presentation skills.
Their natural delivery might lull you into thinking they’ve spent little time practicing.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
I’m a professional presentation coach, and I’ve guided over 1000 clients in the process of writing, practicing, and delivering presentations and keynote addresses.
Here are the tips and advice I give my clients on how to effectively rehearse for an upcoming presentation.
How Much Should you Practice your Presentation Delivery?
As you practice, you’ll find that your presentation will evolve. It will become a more effective presentation as you make tweaks and adjustments. This evolution is likely to take more time than you anticipate.
To ensure you’ve given yourself lots of time to be stage ready, work backwards from the day you will be delivering your presentation, and then schedule in presentation practice time, with practices starting at least two weeks before you plan to walk on stage.
Don’t practice your presentation in the theatre of your mind. It’s only by actually articulating the words out loud that you will understand the messaging that works and the messaging that doesn’t.
I tell my clients they should practice until they get sick of hearing their own voice—that once that happens they’ll know they have practiced enough. They look at me in disbelief, because they usually want the hard numbers.
But there isn’t a prescriptive or magic number of hours your need to practice. It’s a knowing…knowing that you intuitively can speak to all of your content fluidly and you can transition from concept to concept with ease.
I do understand that most people want to know how many hours to schedule into their calendar, so the number that many professional speaking coaches quote is that for a one hour presentation you’ll need 30 hours of practice.
Yes, 30 hours of practice!
However, as I mentioned above, it’s not about a prescriptive amount of time but rather that you must ensure you are practiced enough to deliver your presentation with confidence. The longer the speech the more time you’ll need to practice. New presentations (ones which are not an adaptation of a previous one) also require more practice time. New public speakers often need more practice than seasoned ones, because experienced speakers know what to expect and how to adjust if things don’t go according to plan. New speakers are still honing their presentation skills.
You should also know that professional public speakers tend to spend more time practicing than business professionals. After all, a professional public speaker has a whole career and income around speaking. They need to deliver top-tier presentations that will influence and engage their audiences, and they treat presentation practice like the professionals they are.
“I was preparing for four presentations and although already comfortable with speaking in front of an audience, I was looking to hone my skills. We worked through all of the presentations together and I felt confident and prepared as I delivered them.“
Tips for Effective Presentation Practice
1. Don’t Memorize Your Speech
My first rule of thumb is not to be tempted to memorize your presentation word for word. Audiences can tell when a speaker has memorized their presentation. It’s obvious because there is a flavour of performance art—the delivery is a bit disassociated from the words.
Memorized presentations sound robotic because it’s hard to instil passion in them—they lose their fresh, conversational vibe.
Rote memorization also sets you up for a big problem. Forget one word and you’ll look like a deer in headlights and be grappling for what to speak to next.
2. Pull Out the Key Concepts of the Presentation
Instead of memorizing your speech, follow these guidelines instead:
- Practice your full script once or twice out loud.
- Gather a stack of note cards.
- Scan through your presentation and write down key concepts – one concept per card.
- Do a few practice run throughs (again, out loud) expanding from the key points on your cards.
You’ll be surprised at how much you know and remember using this technique.
Many speakers have a hard time letting go of their notes. Notes are like a pacifier. When my clients toss them, I know it’s one of the toughest leaps of faith they need to take.
What’s the benefit to tossing your notes? You’ll sound natural, at ease, and confident.
3. Use Visual Cueing to Help You Remember Your Key Points
One of my very first clients was scheduled to deliver at a conference with a few months to prepare. Sadly, the previous year she had been in a massive car wreck and suffered a brain stem injury that affected her memory. First we worked together on the content, and then I created a method to help her deliver her words.
We used the key concepts technique above, but for each key concept, we associated it with a visual aid—an image which aligned to each key concept. For each concept we used an image that would trigger its meaning. Some of the images made no sense to me but it was the right trigger for her.
She practiced from these visual vies and once she had made a solid connection she memorized the images in order. It wasn’t easy—it took a lot of work. And she pulled it off beautifully.
I tell this story to demonstrate the real value in aligning concepts with visual cues. When I practice presentations, I’m usually in my living room. In a clockwise motion I attach each key concept to a piece of furniture … chair, credenza, couch, etc. I practice with each piece of furniture triggering my memory and then riff off of the key concepts.
Some clients find this too discombobulating. For some, having to retrieve the images conjured up from their home while standing on a stage is too confusing. For those clients, I recommend they use their own body from the top of their head to the tip of their toes as visual markers, assigning one key message per body part.
If you’re lost and unsure about how to make your presentation compelling, I can help.
4. Only Practice the Parts of the Speech You Trip Over
As my requests to speak at events grew, I soon realized that practicing a presentation from start to finish each time was time consuming. Many new public speakers fall into this trap as well. A better approach, once you have your presentation in good shape, is to only practice the parts which challenge you. This technique does double duty. It saves lots of time, and it also prevents over learning/memorizing.
And while you’re practicing…
5. Record Yourself Rehearsing Your Presentation
Many people shy away from recording themselves and then critiquing the playbacks. Once I got out of my own way, I realized how valuable video and audio recordings are. My clients say the same thing. Watching a video or audio recording of your own speech is one of the richest possible forms of public speaking feedback.
The trick is to remove your ego. Put your critiquing hat though you’re watching or listening to someone you don’t know.
Review Your Presentation Recordings and Answer These Self-Critique Questions
- Does your opening hook your audience in within the first 30 seconds?
- Have you established a solid through line? Is it obvious during your entire presentation?
- Is your content persuasive? Have you established common ground and then inched your audience along to influence them?
- Does each concept flow well into the next? Are the transitions smooth?
- Is your audience inspired by your close? What will they do because of your presentation?
- Are you using the full power of your voice and mannerisms that communicate engaging body language?
- Are you relying on too many filler words?
- Did you pace your content well—will your audience be able to easily follow your arguments?
- Do you appear relaxed? Are you presenting confidently?
Once you answer these questions, take note of the problems you’ve identified and apply them to your next practice round. It’s doing the hard work and learning these nuances that support masterful delivery during your actual presentation.
Body Language: Practicing Gestures
When you practice and deliver your presentation with passion, confidence, and conviction as you would do as a speaker for TED Talk, your gestures and body language will naturally be in tune with your words.
There may be a few gestures you want to use for emphasis but to memorize each gesture will have you looking stilted and awkward.
Knowing When You Are Ready to Present
Your first practices should be on your own until you are confident in your content and how you’ll deliver it.
Once you’re in a solid place, I recommend practicing in front of colleagues that have lots of public speaking experience. Better yet, work with me—I’m a communication specialist and public speaking coach who has worked with over 1000 clients to get them prepared to stand behind a podium or on stage.
But don’t work until the last minute. It’s important to block concentrated scheduled presentation practice time … and also have rest time to integrate the learning.
“To join the stars, do less. But do the work with absolute, intense, and hard focus. And when you’re done, be done, and go enjoy the rest of the day.”Amir Afianian
An overburdened mind is not capable of efficiently learning a presentation (cramming for exams in uni didn’t work either.)
If you are up against a time crunch, I recommend you at least practice and learn the start of your presentation and conclusion of your presentation. Embed to memory the logical flow of your key points and from there, as time permits, practice ‘riffing’ off your points.
I’ve never delivered a presentation or had a client report back after a presentation saying they wished they’d practiced less.
The passion for your craft or industry shines through when you invest the time in practicing your presentation that shines a light on you as a professional public speaker.
Do You Need Help With Your Next Presentation?
Developing and creating a presentation on your own without professional feedback is challenging. If you’re stuck on how to clearly communicate your message, book a 1-hour presentation strategy session with me. I’ll help you get on track to deliver a presentation that is interesting, exciting, and engaging.
If you need support to create a presentation from a few scribbled notes on a napkin, I can help you with that too -> Prepare For Your Upcoming Presentation, Speech, or Talk.