I do, too.
But you know what I hate more? Feeling unprepared. Forgetting what I wanted to say. The clammy feel of my palms sweating as I realize I’m not sure I checked my slides after the last time I used them to make sure they’re updated with this client’s info.
I practice so I will feel great. I practice so I can forget about the content and concentrate on the audience.
I practice because the people who are taking time out of their day to listen to me deserve it—whether I’m leading a meeting, holding a call, or giving a keynote.
It’s very easy to be too busy to practice and prepare. But it’s worth it to slow down, take your time, and make sure you’re ready to connect.
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!
No, you’re not.
Sure, you may have occasional “knock-it-out-of-the-ballpark” occasions when all the stars align and you feel incredible about your performance. But if you want to be consistently effective and powerful, you have to, (I hate to say it), practice.
“But when I practice, I sound rehearsed!” Yes, that can definitely be a danger. But, (I hate to break it to you), it just means that you aren’t practicing enough.
Here’s how it works. You outline what you want to say, then you start saying it. You listen to yourself. You might video yourself. You say it some more. You notice that, in this one section, a certain phrase keeps tripping you up. You replace that phrase. You stop practicing for the day.
The next day, or the day after that, you practice some more. Your brain kicks in and starts really feeling good about your content–you know how to get from point A to point B because you heard yourself navigating a tricky transition and you smoothed it out. You stop practicing for the day. Lather, rinse, repeat.
How do you know when you’ve practiced enough? One good indicator is that you can tell the content of your presentation to another person conversationally and keep their interest. Another is that, when you practice, you can engage with the room around you, and not think only about what you’re saying next.
Scott Berkun, author of “Confessions of a Public Speaker,” makes a terrific point in that book. He says that, if you’re doing an hour-long presentation or a speech for forty people, and you don’t practice, in essence you are valuing the five or six hours you might spend practicing above the cumulative forty hours of the people who are going to watch your speech.
If I still haven’t convinced you, think about this. That last speaker you saw, the boring one who kept looking at his slides instead of at the audience, who kept saying “uh” and messing with his glasses? He thought he was better off-the-cuff.