Presentation Rehearsal Techniques
How to Rehearse a Presentation

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Presentations Rehearsal... Fact or Fiction?

Not many days pass when I don't witness a presenter who is falling into a presentation trap or as I like to put it given way to a ‘false sense of preparedness’. Actually, let me put it a different way... they are not falling into the trap they have already plummeted into a presentation abyss.

First let me define a false sense of preparedness. Glancing over your notes or rummaging through your PowerPoint slides for let's say five to six minutes before a presentation and thinking to yourself what you will likely say is pretty much a recipe for presentation disaster. I would surmise at this point your biggest concern is whether or not your notes or your slides are in a somewhat correct order. Give me a break!

Falling into the Presentation Abyss

Now let me define presentation rehearsal. In advance of your presentation you deliver your material, while standing and saying the words out loud in real time without skimming over any detail. That's it!

You are thinking…That’s it…yeah right…well not exactly… follow that regimen at least three times. Wait... I can hear the gasps now as you were thinking who has time for that? Certainly we live in a very time starved environment, and things are always getting in the way. Of course there are shortcuts, and it becomes your decision as to how many shortcuts you risk taking and determining how high the stakes are of the presentation you're about to make. If you are a past participant of one of my presentation boot camps you will recall my following trademark statement:

Rehearse your presentation once in real time, out loud, and enjoy an 80% advantage over other presenters, because they're not rehearsed

I'll take those odds any day of the week to take my presentations to champion level. I mentioned shortcuts... at a minimum rehearse once in real time. Here's another shortcut… rehearse five-minute sections of your presentations. Rehearse the opening of your presentation, and see how far you get along in five minutes. Those first five minutes will also be quite telling as to your comfort level with your material. Just by rehearsing you will be in a position to do the quick math to determine the length your presentation just by rehearsing small increments.

Presentation rehearsal... who has time for that!

Thank you for asking. Many of us think we are the busiest people around… busier than our peers or coworkers. So busy that you barely have enough time to even prepare a presentation much less rehearse it. As it happens I ran across an interesting article that helped me put my own perceived busiest schedule around…in perspective. The article profiled John Chambers, CEO, Cisco Systems.

Still too busy to rehearse your presentations?

John Chambers, Cisco Systems CEO is a stickler for presentation preparation. He is one of the most powerful and engaging presenters in the business world today. The busiest, the best and most powerful presenters make the time to prepare. Can you speculate that his schedule is busier than that of many other professionals you know…ahem…much less your own!...yet he clearly understands the power of preparation. So much that he will always find the time for preparation and more specifically rehearsal. Always!

How much time do you spend on preparation?

This time let me quote you some numbers. Herbert Research conducted a study late last year, and surveyed vice presidents and sales managers of mid to large companies in North America. The intent of the study was to determine how management and sales professionals perceived and acted on presentation preparation. I won't bore you with a series of numbers from the entire study.  I will however share with you two points that jumped off the page for me and I consider cause for alarm. Granted this study focuses on sales professionals, and I would ask you to step back and ask yourself if you're in one of the next two categories regardless of the type of presentations you deliver.

The study revealed these two shocking points:

  • 30 minutes – the average time sales managers and vice presidents expect their sales professionals to prepare for a sales call
  • 20 minutes – or less is the length of time sales professionals actually spend on preparation.

The shocker for me was what I read next; 33% spend 1 to 10 minutes preparing while 29% spend 11 to 20 minutes.

When I read that last line I thought I was going to fall out of my office chair. I ask you what kind of success rate would your presentation have if you spent 1 minute preparing for it. Once again…Give me a break!

I take you back to my trade phrase earlier quoted, read it and read it again.

Rehearse your presentation once in real time, out loud, and enjoy an 80% advantage over other presenters, because they're not rehearsed

Finally, it’s time to delve into science for a further argument to reinforce my insistence on rehearsing my own presentations and a strict rule I enforce with all my students.

David Weiner., author of several psychology bestsellers, including the new Reality Check: What Your Mind Knows But Isn't Telling You (Prometheus Books).
Weiner writes, ‘Now there's new clinical research that shows there's a physical reason why rehearsing works so well and why those hours of out-loud practice can make you a more confident presenter.’

Weiner states, “The research shows there's two important reasons why practice makes perfect. The first is that when you practice anything - be it a business, sales or scientific presentation or even Beethoven's "Moonlight" sonata - you essentially carve a path for it in your brain. Without practice, your brain can take any of tens or hundreds of paths to reach its final destination.

Practice reduces the number of potential pathways. In other words, by repeating your presentation again and again you'll start using about 8 to 10 pathways, says Weiner. "The brain will know what you want it to do," he says, "so you'll become more precise."

Final thoughts

Rehearsal is a simple form of repetitive behavior or training routinely used by many occupations and professions. The list includes athletes, pilots, fire fighters, emergency rescue personnel and on and on. Imagine the consequences in some of these occupations without rehearsal or adequate training.

Rehearse your own presentations and avoid your own presentation disaster. 

Attention Subscribers: Good news…Bad news

Wow! – I’m excited how many loyal subscribers have been reading my presentation rants all this time. My subscriber base just keeps growing and growing and that has its own challenges. I’m faced with upgrading my newsletter broadcast provider very shortly and I need your help in the transition. As you know more and more attention is now paid to personal privacy and in fact is enforced by law in most cases. When you originally signed up for my Presentation Newsletter you received an e-mail to confirm and obtain your explicit permission by clicking a link.

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Great Presentations!  

 Richard Peterson, CSP – known as North America's Presentation Coach™