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The Run-Through

Every expert on speaking recommends rehearsal. Yes, that includes me.

At the same time, just about every would-be speaker says, “Awww, I really don’t wanna rehearse.” Or something to that effect. Yes. That also includes me.

You know I took some time off while I was caring for my husband. I’m happy to be working again and thrilled to have a big speaking engagement this week. Secrets of Professional Presence and Influence. Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?

I’ve been talking to leaders at the company, learning about their business. Getting a feel for the language they use. Crafting my content so it hits the mark for their team. And I enjoyed every minute of that research and preparation.

Eventually, it was time to stand up and practice. And – I really didn’t wanna rehearse.

What keeps a person from doing something that makes so much sense?

Here’s what clients often tell me when I recommend that they rehearse their high-stakes presentation. “I want to sound spontaneous, see. And if I rehearse … then it’ll sound fake or canned, and then I won’t be able to connect with the listeners.”

And here’s what I say. “Hooey.”

Mind you, I’ve used the I-want-to-sound-natural excuse myself.  I completely believe the best speakers do sound natural because they are present in the moment with their audience.

I think improv is an essential skill for any speaker–any businessperson, for that matter–to develop.

And yes, spontaneity at the front of the room is a wonderful thing. It spices up a presentation in a big way; it makes the whole thing much more engaging.

And. It’s only reasonable to practice before we get in front of an audience. Think about it …

  • Actors go through months of rehearsal before they take the stage for a performance.
  • Athletes put in grueling daily practice sessions leading up to the big game.
  • And singers? The night you went to that big concert, they weren’t hitting the high notes for the first time.

Performers who are serious about their craft don’t show up in front of their audience and wing it. Neither should you. And neither should I.

What advice do we get from these other experts I mentioned?

“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

“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

“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

Okay, maybe you’re not being paid to step out onto a big stage. You’re not giving the speech of your life on TV. Your audience may be a handful of people in a conference room.

Even so, these principles about rehearsal apply to every business communication situation where the stakes are high. That might mean a sales presentation. A meeting on Zoom or Teams. Delivering a research paper to members of your professional association.

Here’s the bottom line.

If your mouth will be moving and you have a business objective that means something to you, it’s worth thinking through ahead of time. What are you going to say? And what impression are you going to create on your audience while you say it?

It’s true, you probably won’t practice for every random phone call or conversation over coffee. We only have so many hours in a day.

But when there’s something at stake, when you have an objective in mind, when your reputation is riding on the outcome of a presentation, yes, you should rehearse.

You will get much better results when you do.

And of course, so will I. That’s why I’ve been rehearsing for this week’s talk. And I’m ready.

I’m also ready for your best excuse. What keeps you from rehearsing for your presentation? Or, on the other hand, what’s your best rehearsal strategy?