One of the questions I like to ask coaching clients is “What do you do when you practice?” More often than not, I get a confused look in response.
So I clarify:
“Do you start at the beginning and go all the way through your presentation? Do you stand up? Do you use your PowerPoint deck? Do you look at yourself in a mirror? Do you get feedback from someone?”
In his book “Talent Is Overrated,” Geoff Colvin talks about the concept of “deliberate practice.” When we practice with intention, we are setting out to improve something specific, and we focus on that area. As Colvin points out, professional athletes don’t practice by playing entire games or matches—they do drills, they watch video of their previous performances, they get targeted feedback from a coach, and then they set out to improve the areas that will make them better athletes.
As speakers, we want to do the same thing. After you create your presentation, do it for a friend or family member, and video it. Get feedback from your audience and watch yourself. How did you do? Where did you excel? What are one or two things you could work on to be even better?
Once you identify these areas, create some drills for yourself. If you and your feedback partner noticed that you took a while to get going, work on your introduction. If it was going gangbusters until the end, work on your closing.
“Practice” doesn’t have to mean closing your office door and going through the whole thing from beginning to end. Often we put off practicing because it feels too monumental, so break it up into more manageable chunks. While you’re driving a familiar route, decide that you’ll practice just one part for the time it takes you to get from A to B. Then save B to C for another trip.
Then when you’ve done all that, put it together, with any technology you’ll be using, and run through the whole presentation at least once, remembering first and foremost the why of what you’re doing.
Good luck and happy practicing!