So you’ve got a big presentation / speech coming up. How many times should you practice your speech before you give it for real? This is actually a very good question that most presenters either forget to ask themselves or come up with the wrong answer to. We all know that practice makes perfect so how can we tell when we’ve reached perfection with our speech?
We should probably start with the good news: even a little practice will probably make you better than most presenters. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to sit through a train-wreck of a presentation that clearly showed that the presenter had laid out some thoughts on paper, but had not taken the time to practice what he/she was going to say.
If you want to create and deliver a great presentation, there are three key interlocked factors that you need to make sure that you take care of:
- Make sure that the speech plays to your speaking strengths. If you hate to give speeches, make sure that this one is as short as possible in order to minimize your time “on stage”. If you are good at telling stories, then include them in your presentation.
- Establish good connections between the different parts of the speech. Ensuring that the speech flows smoothly and logically from section to section will make it much easier for you to memorize the flow of the speech.
- Make sure that you have your speech down cold before you deliver it. You’ll know that you’ve been able to do this when you could recite it by heart if someone asked you to do so at a moment’s notice. This will ensure that when you deliver your presentation the words tumble out of your mouth automatically and with no effort.
I’m not sure if you really want to hear this, but you cannot over-rehearse a presentation. I know that you are dying for a hard number to hang your hat on so here it is: 7. I firmly believe that any presentation that you are going to deliver deserves at least seven practice runs by you. The first will be a flaming disaster and the seventh should be quite good. This means that your “for real” presentation will be (at least) the 8th time that you’ve delivered the material and it should flow from you quite naturally. Key point: if this is one of those career defining presentations then you should probably practice it at least 15 times in order to make sure that each and every word comes out perfectly.
So we’ve answered the question of “how many” times you should practice, now the follow on question is “how to practice”. The key to the first few run throughs is to make sure that you are in a secure environment in which you won’t be interrupted. For most of us, this means a bathroom that has a lock on the door. The added advantage of practicing in a bathroom is that there is a large mirror in front of you and you can watch yourself as you talk. I can assure you that it’s hard to do, but you’ll eliminate unnecessary moves and twitches quickly when you practice this way. Beginning speakers often want to make their presentation “perfect”. This means that when they are practicing, they will speak until they screw-up, grit their teeth and then go back to the beginning and start over. This ensures that it’s going to be hours before they can make it through the entire speech. I recommend a different approach: start at the beginning and just run though the entire speech until you hit the end. Yes, there will be screw-ups; however, just keep on going. Doing it this way will allow you to get a feel for the speech as a whole and you may end up changing big parts of it – no need to perfect something that you’re going to be changing anyway.
Last point: get feedback. If the first time that you get feedback is when you present to your “real” audience than you’ve made a mistake. I can’t begin to tell you just how important it is to get feedback from real humans as you prepare a presentation. Words and ideas that seem to flow together for you may turn out to be confusing gibberish to them. Your cutting and trimming to make your speech fit in the allotted time may have caused you to skip over important definitions and concepts that are critical to your audience’s understanding of your main points. It does not matter if the feedback comes from family, friends, strangers, or co-workers, just make sure that you get it.
How many time did you rehearse your last presentation? Did you feel that this was enough times to get it down or do you wish that you had practiced more? Who do you use as an audience for your practice presentations? Do they give you valuable feedback? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.