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Presentation Skills: Delivery Skills: Rehearse

Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse.

Every successful presentation requires preparation. But your preparation isn't complete until you've rehearsed your presentation thoroughly.

There are reasons performers work so hard in rehearsal. It gives them greater control of their material. It builds confidence. And it gives the appearance that they're hardly working at all. The same applies to giving presentations.

Like an actor preparing a performance, you should never walk in cold to a presentation. You may have built an irresistible case, with impeccable supporting data and nothing less than world-class visuals. But preparing only up to that point is not enough. Take a cue from the most experienced and accomplished public speakers who rehearse every nuance before going onstage.

Rehearse under real conditions.
Your rehearsal, as much as possible, should be done under the actual conditions you will face when presenting. Find a room similar to the room you'll be speaking in. If it's the same room you'll be presenting in, all the better.

Practice on the same equipment you'll be using when you present. Test-drive the actual equipment again before you present.

Rehearse out loud. Hear yourself. This lets you fine-tune your remarks in ways that are more natural to your own speaking style. It's also more likely to point up flaws in your delivery that you can quickly correct.

The biggest myth about rehearsing.
Don't think that by rehearsing you will rob your presentation of its vitality or somehow make your delivery seem slick or stilted. Practice actually has the opposite effect. Because it gives you greater command of your material and more confidence in yourself, you're likely to be more relaxed and able to deliver in your own natural style.

Tape yourself.
If you can, it's a good idea to videotape yourself. You may find, for example, that your body language isn't communicating the message or the impression you intended. It may be hindering rather than supporting your delivery. You may find yourself speaking too fast or too slow, or without enough energy, or with too much energy. A tape recorder is the next best option, although it will not reveal as much.

Get feedback before—not just after—the fact.
When rehearsing, it's a good idea to test your presentation before an audience. One way to do that—literally—is to take a walk. Walk the hallways. Seek out colleagues you can trust to give you honest, constructive criticism, even if it hurts. It's even better if they'll be in the audience when you present. And if they're key members of the audience, better still.

Once you've practiced, and incorporated the feedback you've received, you should rehearse your presentation again—this time, as you'll actually give it. You'll also be able to determine the actual time it will take to deliver it.

Remember, you must key your presentation to your audience. If, for example, your presentation is a call to action, have you included the right elements and supporting visuals? Do your key messages come across clearly? Are they in fact the right messages? Is your delivery convincing, persuasive, likely to have an impact?

You may have a clear message and have decided what response you want from your audience. It follows that getting feedback before taking the leap helps assure you'll get that desired response.

Don't be fooled.
A final note: even the best "impromptu" presentations are rehearsed. Mark Twain, the story goes, was fond of saying, "It takes three weeks to prepare a good impromptu talk." And Winston Churchill, one of history's greatest speakers, was thought to spend as much time preparing and rehearsing his "impromptu" remarks as he did on his formal speeches.

This Issue

Don't leave the outcome of your next presentation to chance. Rehearse with a private coach to get professional feedback and guidance for your next communication event. You can also fine-tune your communication skills through a presentation skills seminar.

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