Prepare Well, Rehearse Some

[message_box  color=”blue”]This blog is about preparation: how often you should rehearse, and how to use time to ensure that you are prepared for all presentation related eventualities.[/message_box]

It’s true to say that professionals have their talks really well canned – but a sales or business presentation is a different matter. Usually one is speaking on a subject where one has a degree of expertise, often adjusting your slant depending on your audience profile or the context. It’s really a matter of rehearsing the flow rather than the content itself. The danger of over-rehearsing a presentation is that it can become stiff and over formal losing the edge necessary to persuade. So, one can over-rehearse a presentation.

So, how often should you rehearse? In the context of a sales or business presentation (which is way different from an actor rehearsing their lines), you should already know your stuff, so familiarization of content is not the issue. It’s becoming comfortable with the structure that you’ve created for the presentation. No one has time for 15 rehearsals – it just doesn’t happen. So, what should happen?

Your first practice is to test the flow. It’s unlikely to be perfect, so expect a stop start affair. Be patient, forget the stopwatch. Make the necessary adjustments so that it flows as intended. Then, when it’s all tidied up. Leave it alone for a few hours. Don’t be come anxious about how the first rehearsal went, it’s seldom fluent. It is inadvisable therefore, to only allow for one practice run. Rehearsal #2 is for timing. Get out the stopwatch and test whether it all fits into the intended time frames, factoring in Q&A if applicable. This practice run always goes far better than the first stop-start affair, so expect a surge in confidence. If that’s all you have time for, you’ll probably be fine. Your 3rd rehearsal is your insurance. Give it a real whirl – practice your gestures and enthusiasm, check your posture in the mirror and enjoy it. With the confidence that 3 rehearsals will give you, it’s almost impossible to fail on the big day.

Preparation is, however, a different matter. Although practice occurs in the latter phases of preparation, you preparation should be adequate up to that point. Overall preparation involves content, structure, your attire, equipment, all aspects of venue planning, handouts, audience profiling, what if’s – and then practice.

Despite your good intentions and diligent planning, it only takes one thing to go wrong on the day to put you under pressure, no matter how experienced you are.

I recently conducted one of my seminars a long way from home for about 50 people. I arrived at my hotel (where I was staying and presenting) many hours ahead of time and went straight up to the venue to set up. I raised the screen, spaced the seats better so that my delegates weren’t cramped, organised extension leads etc. When I went back to reception, I was informed that I’d been shown to the wrong venue (also expecting around 50 people) so we started all over again. As soon as I’d completed the set-up I went up to my really grotty room, came straight down again and asked to be moved. I was upgraded to a very slightly less grotty room. During the changeover my delegate kits arrived by courier at reception. I signed for them, went up to my new room. No hot water. Finished my cold shower, got dressed, back to the venue – plenty of time, delegates due at 17h20. Set up data projector, computer, name tags, seminar kits… 16h55 my first 2 delegates arrive almost one half hour early! I send them away for a walk – they take one to the pub. Five minutes later another 20 arrive en-mass – also early. After three requests the airconditioning came on converting the venue from a steam bath to a freezerwithin 7 minutes. A great finger buffet was provided – but nothing to drink, and there was  no Function Co-coordinator in sight. After the 2nd request, some jugs of fruit juice arrive, just as we’re about to start the seminar.

We started on time. The seminar went smoothly. Apart from late drinks, the audience was unaware of the difficulty experienced in the overall setting up.

You see, whatever falls under your control should be sorted out in advance so that you have the time to fix the things that are not. Whenever you are presenting at an unfamiliar venue, more things can go wrong than you can begin to imagine. So be well prepared and be early. The success of your presentation can well depend on how you used your most precious asset – time.

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