I was in New York staying next to the famous Beacon Theatre. From my hotel room I could hear the British rock band The Cure conducting a sound check for the performance they were giving that night. They might have been performing since 1976 and sold over 26 million albums – but they were still rehearsing before they went out on stage.
It doesn’t matter how rich and famous they are, even the biggest bands in the world rehearse before they perform a concert. They conduct a sound check to make sure that the venue’s sound system is at the right volume and tonal frequencies, as the acoustics are different in each venue this needs to be done at each place where they perform. This is on top of the rehearsals they do to ensure that every aspect of the performance is professional.
Rock bands, Ballet, Opera, Sports events, emergency plan preparations – most everything that is important is (and should be!) rehearsed before the performance. So too, any (and every) business presentation you make should be rehearsed.
A rehearsal helps you clarify what you will say and how you will present. If something doesn’t make sense to you when you say it out loud, it won’t make sense to anyone else. A rehearsal, even for the best presenter, is a necessity. It’s like putting a coat of polish on your shoes and it will help you shine. If you haven’t made many presentations in the past, practising will also help with your nerves.
Practise your presentation initially by reading it to yourself. Then read it out loud. You may be a bit surprised when you stumble a bit or find something that doesn’t sound as smooth as you thought. That’s the point of a rehearsal. You will be presenting out loud, not reading something to yourself. Keep practising until you can get through it and sound the way you want – at least once.
Don’t overdo it though. Give yourself time for a break between your last rehearsal and the presentation. Have a cup of tea, go for a walk or share a joke with someone. Take time to clear your head before you do it for real.
Here are some of my top tips on what you should rehearse before you make a presentation:
Content – even if you’ve made a presentation before, run through your content, out loud in exactly the way you want to deliver it, this time. Why? Because you’ll be thinking of it in the specific context of the audience who you will be delivering it to – because you will understand their needs from the pre-presentation preparation you did!
Technology– like the rock band at the sound check, you need to make sure that the technology works – computers, tablets, microphones, data shows. They all need to work – the first time. It’s both a time waster and a credibility killer if you spend the first 10 minutes of a presentation mucking around with cables or a perplexed look on your face as you press a remote control that doesn’t respond.
Support materials / visual aids– to ensure they are ready and fit for purpose. Do you have any handouts you are going to distribute? Are they completed? Printed? How are you going to distribute them around the room? Questions best answered before you start presenting than when you are looking at your audience. If you are going to use any visual aids, are they packed and ready? Are they suitable? Will your audience at the back of the room be able to see them? You need to know.
Choreography– you may not be making any dance moves – but once you are in front of an audience you need to know how you want to present. Even in a meeting with a small number of people you may want to stand and move back and forth to a whiteboard. If you are presenting in front of a large audience will you use a lectern? Where will you have your notes sitting? Do you want to walk around the stage? Quite often these decisions have an impact on the type of technology you use. For instance, a rehearsal could lead to a change from a stand to a roving microphone.
You!– how will you present yourself? Know what you will wear and how you will present yourself. Make sure there are no marks on the outfit you have chosen. Ensure that you have the look that represents your operating style and will help you be calm, confident and able to present with panache!
If you take shortcuts in the preparation … you might make a half-reasonable presentation. And that’s exactly what your presentation will be… half-reasonable. It certainly won’t have been presented with panache or enhance your reputation or career prospects. It won’t do you any favors to do less than your best. In fact, if you’re like most Career Chicks you’ll probably beat yourself up mentally about how you could or should have done so much better.
Put the energy in before the presentation and have something to pat yourself on the back about afterwards: the great job you’ve done.