3 expert tips to maximize your presentation rehearsal time

By Maegan Stephens

Man conducting presentation rehearsal with attendees.

When you’re tasked with delivering an important presentation, you probably spend a lot of time creating it. You make sure every word is accurate and easy for your audience to understand, develop visuals that match the content, and might even click through your presentation a few times to make sure everything looks the way you planned.

But have you also carved out time to focus on rehearsal? So many people miss this critical step. They spend days or even weeks creating a presentation, only to see their delivery fall flat. Why? Because they never took the time to rehearse.

Now, I get it. You’re busy (and probably sick of looking at your presentation). The last thing you want to do is practice delivering it. But research shows that the way you communicate is just as important to your audience as what you communicate.

So, here are three tips for maximizing presentation rehearsal.

Host a dress rehearsal 

A rehearsal should feel as close to the real thing as possible. If you can, schedule a time to practice in the same (or similar) setting. Wear the same outfit and use the same technology so you can get a feel for how it will go come go-time. And so you show up to your presentation day, feeling, looking, and sounding confident and prepared.

That’s why you should also present your content out loud. It’s easy to just read through your speaker notes silently, but what sounds good in your head may not sound as good coming out of your mouth. On top of that, research says that saying it out loud will help with your memory.

And if you’re up to it, get some folks you trust to watch you and provide honest feedback. Use this mock audience to double check your jokes and make sure your data points are easy to understand. Taking this extra step will help you ensure you can connect more with your audience when you’re delivering.

Lastly, don’t just read your presentation to your audience. Practice delivering in a conversational way. Scan your notes. Get enough to jog your memory. Then talk freely and conversationally about the topic that you’re about to deliver to them.

Carve out time 

There’s one pushback I hear most often when it comes to presentation rehearsal: “I just don’t have the time.”

It makes sense. There are only so many hours in the day, and it can be tough to squeeze in time for rehearsal. But while some presentations may not require a lot of rehearsal time, other presentations do. How do you know which presentation is deserving of more time? By answering this question: How high are the stakes? 

The stakes for your talk are high if the outcome can affect your job, your team, or your organization. Examples might be:

  • A presentation to a customer that will determine whether you meet your quarterly goal.
  • A pitch to an investor that could fund your organization for the next two years.
  • Addressing shareholders during uncertain economic times.

The stakes for your talk are low if the presentation won’t make or break anything or anyone.

Examples might be:

  • A routine update on projects for the quarter.
  • A funny talk to your colleagues about your favorite dessert recipe during a team retreat.
  • A review of your new product features with a customer who has already committed to purchasing.

The higher the stakes, the more preparation you need.

Now, once you’ve identified that the stakes are high, you still need to determine how much time you spend rehearsing. So here are a few more questions to consider:

  • Is this the first time you are presenting the material?
  • Is the content new to you?
  • Are you nervous to present the material?
  • Is the audience new to you?
  • Is this audience skeptical of either you or the content?
  • Is the presentation more than 20 minutes?

The more you answer “yes” to those questions, the more time you need to rehearse.

And if you’re still on the fence about whether you should rehearse, apply our motto: When in doubt, carve it out.

Prepare but don’t over rehearse  

Clearly, practicing before you present is a smart thing to do, but it might surprise you that over rehearsing can be just as dangerous as not preparing at all.

But how do you know if you are over rehearsing? Here are four telltale signs that it’s time to stop practicing.

1. You’re memorizing words, not concepts.

A lot of speakers are concerned about getting their content right. You have important things to say, and you want to make sure your audience receives your intended message. But word-for-word memorization isn’t usually the best way to absorb the content.

If your mind goes blank or you lose a word – which happens to the best of us – it can be difficult to get back on track. But if you know the concepts, it’s okay if words start to sound a bit different than how you wrote them because you’re still communicating the idea. When you know the concepts, those specific words just don’t matter as much.

So, if you start to feel yourself memorizing words rather than concepts, it’s probably time to stop rehearsing.

2. You sound like a robot.

Audiences can tell when you’re tied to your script. And they don’t like it. They want to feel as if they’re the only person in the room. They want to feel your excitement about the message. So, grab your phone and video or audio record yourself while you rehearse. If you start sounding robotic it’s time to stop.

3. You’re not present with the audience.

It is smart to rehearse in front of people you trust so they can give you feedback on content and delivery. But if you can’t make that happen, you should be picturing your audience while you rehearse. It’s a great alternative. If you start to feel that you’re not present with the people you’re talking to, whether they’re real or imaginary, it’s time to stop rehearsing.

4. You’re tired.

Rehearsal fatigue is real. When I’m coaching a speaker the night before a big talk and I can tell they’re drained, I stop rehearsal. Why? Because sleep is just as important as practice.

Sleep is when your brain converts information into memory. But if you are too fatigued, it’s not going to happen. You aren’t going to be able to motivate your audience to action if you are lethargic or downright exhausted. So that means it’s probably time to stop rehearsing.

Now you’re ready to nail your presentation  

When you watch a gymnast in the Olympics, their routine looks effortless. But you and I both know it took hundreds of rehearsal hours to get there. Presenting is no different.

The most effortless speakers are not the ones who are naturally gifted. They’re the ones that put in the practice. They’re the ones that take presentation rehearsal seriously.

There’s no doubt rehearsal is a commitment. But it’s a commitment that pays dividends as a communicator.

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Maegan Stephens

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