I was invited to participate on a livestream panel yesterday called “Secrets Of The Pros,” geared toward folks working hard on their presentation skills. I redirected a question on preparation to the importance of practice, especially for me. I used to be a serial preparer and never practicer, which often meant I’d keep tweaking a presentation until I walked in front of a group — and then I’d get confused about what my real and final plan was for the actual presentation.
While it’s still uncomfortable for me to end the preparation phase and commit to a plan, it increases my confidence (and therefore the audience’s confidence) when I know what the plan is and practice enough so that I can facilitate to that end.
I mentioned on the panel that I’ve tried lots of different ways over the years and come back to the same four or so. To my surprise, someone asked me to list them and explain in more detail. At the risk of geeking out a bit much, here are my four go-to practice methods:
Running through a presentation, start to finish. I usually only do this for short presentations, 30 minutes or less in length, and I usually video record myself and watch on playback (painful, but oh so helpful!).
Running only through new bits, like stories I’ve never told, sections of material and activities that I’ve never explained before, transitions between content sections, etc. Usually this is what I do with longer classes, when it’s not practical to do a run-through from start to finish, and when I have content I’ve been given and need to stick fairly closely to.
Writing out exactly what I think I want to say, word for word; reading it aloud into my phone as a voice memo; listening back and editing the written speech a couple times; recording a “final” take; and listening to it a few times. This works best for shorter speeches, esp. keynotes with limited interaction. The goal isn’t to memorize the entire thing, word for word, but to internalize the structure, flow, and key phrases that I want to be sure to say during show time.
If I’m feeling particularly punchy, sometimes I’ll just record everything I want to say about a topic on the fly, again as a voice memo into my phone. After listening back, I’ll transcribe only the parts that are worth saving, and then structure an outline and fill in blanks.
What about you? What practice techniques help you get ready for a speaking engagement?