‘If I over-rehearse it just won’t seem natural,’ they tell me. They’re almost right in one respect: standing up in front of your presentation slides and saying the first thing that enters your head certainly won’t look like you’ve rehearsed.
It also won’t look natural, as you will be stressed. You’ll be prone to ums, errs and verbal stumbles as you struggle to dredge up the important points you need to make from the depths of your increasingly panic-stricken mind.
Many people I work with say they don't want to lose the spontaneity of their presentations by over-rehearsing them. I sometimes wonder if this is just an excuse or whether they really believe it. The great Mark Twain certainly understood that impromptu and ‘natural’ speeches and presentations need preparation and practice – and plenty of it.
In a presentation, when you have that level of familiarity and confidence you are much more able to deviate from your prepared speech. You can respond to audience feedback and questions, confident that you can get back on track.
Quality and Quantity
BUT, it’s the quality of the practice that counts, not just the quantity.
A bit like theatre rehearsal, your presentation rehearsal has to have clear goals and objectives that are realistic and achievable. There needs to be clear, concise and constructive feedback. And you need reflection time to clarify in your mind what you need to change for the next run-through.
A change of scene and sensible breaks between sessions will help. This means you need to start rehearsing important presentations well in advance! A smattering of good humour and perhaps a laugh or two all help to keep the tempo up-beat and helps keep you moving forward.
As a coach I need to be able to tell when people can’t take any more; as the process from their side is very exhausting and difficult if they are doing it with the right level of intensity and focus. The pace and intensity need to be controlled so that you gradually build confidence.
Productive practice isn’t easy. But if it was, and if everyone found presenting easy, they wouldn’t need me!
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