Great public speakers might appear to be able to reel off a perfect presentation without a moment’s thought, but it’s a safe bet that cool, assured delivery is the product of proper rehearsal. With these suggestions you too can learn to present like a professional.
1. Practise your presentation several times
This sounds obvious, but many inexperienced speakers don’t practise their whole presentation often enough. The general number of recommended practices is four, but you may consider doing a few extra run-throughs if it isn’t quite smooth. Always practise within the amount of time allocated for your presentation – if you have a 20-minute slot, make sure your practice presentations always come in at under 20 minutes.
But don’t do it obsessively. It is important to spread the practices over several days or a week, if possible. Allow time for the presentation to sink in, become something you know inside and out. That will build confidence, which in turn will make the speech flow in a natural style.
2. Practise in front of trusted friends, family or colleagues
Rehearsing in front of a small audience will give an idea of how you may cope when all eyes are on you. It is important to choose a practice audience of people who will give you honest feedback on your presentation. ‘Yes’ men and ‘yes’ women may just tell you everything is fine, and won’t help you to improve. There’s no substitute for a good, honest critique of the strengths and weaknesses of your presentation.
3. Record yourself
If you have the technology to do it, recording yourself giving a presentation can be a great way to rehearse. If you have a video camera, set it up in a similar position to where your audience will be seated. When you watch the video back, you’ll get the audience’s point of view, and you will be able to assess your body language for yourself. It’s amazing how many little habits of body language happen subconsciously.
People tap their feet; hold their hands in awkward positions, or make awkward facial expressions when not speaking, all without even knowing they’re doing it. If you only have an audio recorder, then it is still useful to record yourself going through the presentation – hearing yourself speak will help eliminate any unnatural pauses and halting delivery.
4. Learn your presentation in segments
Any presentation with a visual element offers a simple way to memorise the accompanying speech. When practising the presentation, learn the points you want to make in association with each slide individually.
Breaking down a speech into small parts is a well-known technique to aid the memory. It is known as ‘chunking’. By learning each slide, or small groups of slides, independently from one another, you’ll be able to spot weak points in your overall presentation, or flaws in your argument.
It is best to avoid trying to learn an entire presentation word-for-word. But it is essential that the basic points and key information are clear in your mind before you attempt to deliver your speech for real. Become confident in your structure and the overall messages of your presentation, and the nerves will start to slip away.
5. Prepare prompt cards
Never read a presentation from a script. Instead, prepare cards with prompts, perhaps as simple as just a word to remind you which point to make next. If you’ve rehearsed properly, prompt cards will guide you through without halting your speech while you read.
6. Rehearse at the venue – or in a similar environment
Familiarising yourself with the scenery of the venue for your presentation will help you gauge how much you will have to project your voice. It will also allow you to test any equipment such as projectors or microphone systems. If possible, rehearse at the venue in front of the small audience mentioned above, and have some of them sit at the back of the room to test your volume. This will also allow you to make sure that your visual aids can be seen from everywhere the audience will be sitting.
If you can’t get access to the venue before your presentation, then try to find a similar-sized room elsewhere.