Good rehearsal techniques can make all the difference between presentation heaven and convention suspension. Here we outline some of the most effective ways to practise and prepare for your big show…
In an ideal world, every presentation would be preceded by a comprehensive “test flight” at its designated venue. Such rehearsals generally allow the speaker an advanced sense of the task at hand, and help to prevent a last-minute attack of stage-fright. And whilst it may not be feasible to visit the actual venue every time you need to give a talk, it is almost always possible to re-create the presentation environment using a room of similar size, shape and appearance.
Once you’ve found a similar room, place a trio of recording devices at different locations in the room, and recite your presentation in its entirety. Listening to the rehearsal afterwards will enable you to identify and correct any less articulate sections of your talk. Better still, the recordings will give you a good idea of the area’s audio-dynamics, and allow you to adjust your vocal mannerisms accordingly. You’ll want to make sure that your every word is sharp, lucid, and available to your entire audience from start to finish.
Unless you’ve an eidetic memory, attempting to learn your entire presentation by heart is almost certainly inadvisable; if you dedicate a disproportionate amount of energy to memorising your pitch, the chances are that you’ll be left sounding bored and lifeless at the main event. Even worse, you could become so rigidly attached to your “script” that you’ll be unable to respond to unexpected questions or adapt to sudden changes in the audience’s mood.
Instead, try using memory aids to fix your pitch structure and major talking points into your mind’s eye. Spidergraphs, radial trees and prompt cards are all invaluable crutches which will lend your presentation a genial, natural flow and help you to keep your footing on the big day.
Meet the Host
As far as rehearsal tips go, convening in advance with the venue’s host is difficult to beat. In doing so, you could gain a handy insight into a number of vital and easily overlooked matters.
From the audience’s tastes and demographics to the seating layout and lighting in the auditorium, even the briefest of meetings will shed a valuable new light on your viewers’ expectations and allow you to perform at your best when presentation day rolls around.
While you’re at the meeting, don’t forget to enquire as to the availability of refreshments for your audience. Providing your viewers with free snacks and beverages will not only set the foundations for a healthy rapport, it will ensure that your audience is physically charged to absorb your content, too. And while the venue itself may lack the facilities to provide such a service, its host should at the very least be able to recommend a good local caterer.
As obvious a rehearsal technique as it may seem, a worrying amount of speakers continue to take to the podium without first properly testing their presentation equipment. Needless to say, such carelessness can lead to an alarming assortment of extremely embarrassing situations.
Whether this is your first of thousandth presentation, it’s only sensible to play it safe by carrying out at least two complete technical rehearsals. The first of these should be performed solo: facing the projection screen, keep a subjective eye on your equipment’s performance whilst you recite your pitch in its entirety. Without an audience present, you should be able to ensure that any errors concerning your apparatus – from your microphone to your slides to any audio or video sections you’ve decided to include – are ironed out once and for all.
Your second tech-run should be carried out in the vein of a polished beta test, with a handful of trusted friends and colleagues making up your assembly. Since any problems with your equipment should already have been corrected by this point, the goal here is to ensure that your real audience will find your slide layout and technical content to be clear and relevant. Invite your test audience to interrupt you wherever confusion arises, and take care to implement their feedback in your final presentation. This will help to ensure that, at least so far as the technicalities are concerned, your pitch is delivered as smoothly and coherently as possible.
If you feel there’s still room for improvement after making your amendments, don’t be embarrassed to invite your test audience back for a third or even a fourth tech-run. Like many things, perfection comes in stages, and any colleague worthy of the name will be pleased to sacrifice some of their time if it means you’ve a greater chance of success.
When you’re able to anticipate your audience’s post-pitch queries in advance, you’ll be in a great position to give the kind of informed, articulate responses that will keep your viewers satisfied and, perhaps more importantly, leave you looking polished and professional.
To get a decent idea of the questions you can expect to receive, you’ll first need to acquire an understanding of your audience’s level of familiarity with the subject at hand. This can be achieved easily enough during a brief interview with the event’s organiser. Next, compile a selection of the topic’s most common discussion points, from the amateur to the quite obscure; if you find yourself short for time, there’s no shame in using your final tech-run to collect some final ideas from that hapless audience of yours.
Finally, rehearse giving your answers in the fluent, eloquent manner which audiences so crave. To ensure that your responses are both understood and remembered, practise mirroring the questioner’s tone and rate of speech. Lay emphasis on your most significant points by using clear, jargon-free language, and take care to repeat each question out loud before proceeding with your answer; this can help to prevent you from digressing off topic and, under the guise of restating the question for the benefit of those who may not have heard, lend you a few extra moments to construct a more orderly, intelligible response.
Listen and Learn
The beginning of your presentation really is the perfect opportunity to seize your viewers’ attention and paint yourself as the polished, inspirational speaker you are. And, since body language will play a key role in the audience’s evaluation of you, the less time you spend hunched over your notes during your opening period, the better.
To master your intro the easy way, create a recording of yourself reading it out. Then, listen to the recording frequently during the days running up to your presentation. Whether over breakfast, whilst driving or just before going to sleep, your content will become more and more familiar to you each time you hear it. And before long, you’ll be able to recite your introduction with the kind of effortless enthusiasm that will leave your audience itching for more.
George A Dixon