Why is it so hard to rehearse a business presentation? Every expert on speaking – including me – recommends rehearsal. And just about every would-be speaker – including me – says, “Awww, I don’t wanna.” Or something to that effect.
I’m getting ready for a speaking engagement this week. I’ve planned my material. I’ve polished my stories. I know the content I want to cover for this audience. It’s time to stand up and rehearse. And – I don’t wanna.
What is it that keeps us from doing something that makes so much sense?
Here’s what clients often tell me when I recommend that they rehearse a high-stakes presentation. “I want to sound spontaneous, see, and if I rehearse … then it’ll sound canned and phony and I won’t be able to connect with the audience.”
And here’s what I say. “Hooey.”
I’ve used the I-want-to-sound-natural excuse myself. I believe in being present in the moment with your audience. I think improv is an essential skill for any speaker – any business person for that matter – to develop. And yes, spontaneity at the front of the room is a fine thing.
And. It just makes sense to practice before we get in front of an audience.
Actors go through months of rehearsal before they take the stage for a performance. Athletes have grueling daily practice sessions before a big game. Singers? The night you went to that big concert, they weren’t hitting those notes for the first time.
Performers who are serious about their craft don’t face their audience and wing it. Neither should you. And neither should I.
So these other experts I’m talking about. What advice do they have for us?
“Each person is different, but you probably need to rehearse a presentation all the way through at least four or five times, or until you feel comfortable. Remember your goal is NOT to memorize the content word for word.”
“… do not just sit at your computer and mouth the words or run the ideas by in your head. Be certain to stand up and speak out loud in the same voice you plan to use the day of your talk. The difference between your first time and second time is huge. This is why it’s important to have a full run-through as if it were live.”
— Garr Reynolds in The Naked Presenter
“If you want to steal the show and create a meaningful experience for your audience, and if you want to truly own your career’s spotlight moments, I hope you’ll prepare differently than you’ve likely done in the past. This means rehearsing in a way that leaves as little to chance for your big moment as possible.”
— Michael Port in Steal the Show
“You need to practice communicating your content every day at every opportunity so that the mechanics of giving your presentation don’t monopolize your attention and focus. You don’t want to be the dancer counting the steps out loud. Repetition frees your mind to tell your ‘story’ in a way that is interesting, dynamic, and more important – authentic.”
— Carmine Gallo in Talk Like Ted
You may not be stepping onto a stage. Or giving a speech. Or talking to an audience of more than a few people.
But these principles apply to every business communication situation where the stakes are high. A sales presentation. A meeting with an existing client. A teleconference. Your introduction at the networking events you attend.
If your mouth is moving. And you have a business objective. It’s worth thinking ahead of time: what are you going to say? Okay, you probably won’t practice for every random phone call and conversation over coffee. But when there’s something riding on the outcome of this exchange, yes, you should rehearse.
You will get much better results.
And of course, so will I.
Okay, I’m ready for your best excuse. Tell me in the comments below – what keeps you from rehearsing before you speak?