The adage: ‘practice makes perfect’, certainly applies to presentation-giving. Research and writing are important parts of the speechmaking process but rehearsing prior to the event is the key to a successful presentation. Indeed, rehearsing can help make an ordinary speech extraordinary. You can be sure that rehearsals form part of even the most experienced presenter’s planning – so why should you neglect that important step…

1. Be confident that your content is appropriate.

When you’re satisfied that the content of your speech is almost final (e.g. you’ve covered the main points, you’ve checked the grammar, the ideas flow, you’ve included appropriate transitions), read the speech a couple of times aloud – from your written notes or your computer screen. Make changes to your script. Only when you’re confident with your text can you begin rehearsing in earnest.

2. Know your content.

Work with the content of your speech until you’re

extremely familiar with the material, its structure and sequence. Why? Because it is only at that point that you can actually start to focus on your delivery.

When you know the material inside and out, you then have the freedom to experiment with your rate of speech, pauses, dynamic builds, vocal variety, gestures and movement. Resist the temptation to move too quickly from the writing stage to the presentation stage in front of an audience. If you adhere to the following steps, you’ll avoid much of the nervousness associated with giving a presentation…

3. Read your speech several times aloud to yourself.

At this point you are practicing alone. Shut the door and let yourself hear the presentation. Whether you are intending to read your speech word-for-word, use cue cards, or commit your entire speech to memory, this initial step in the rehearsal process allows you to iron out any glitches in either your text or delivery and to practice the inclusion of any resource material or demonstrations you may be intending to incorporate. Does it sound interesting, motivating or stirring? Do you include vocal variety? Are you speaking too fast or too slow? How is its length? If you detect any problems, fix them.

4. Become familiar with your speech.

Record your speech onto an audiocassette and listen to the playback as often as possible. Are any of your words garbled? Do you hear any ‘ums’ or ‘arrs’? Listening to it in the car can be a great use

of your travel time. You will become more familiar with the speech and may even be able to memorize it just by listening to it. Don’t be too concerned about expressions or gestures until you’re feeling comfortable with the flow of your presentation. Try not to deviate too much from what you have prepared and practice. Focus also on your introduction and close; it is so easy to neglect these important parts of any presentation. Ensure your introduction captures the audience’s attention and make sure your closing comments are smooth and telling.

5. Get in front of a mirror.

Now get on your feet and practice the delivery of your speech, alone, in front of a mirror. Watch yourself speak and take note of your gestures, eye contact and facial expressions. Take particular note of your appearance, your gestures, and the message that is being delivered unconsciously. What you say often conveys far less meaning than what you communicate nonverbally.

6. Consider videotaping.

Videotape yourself giving the speech. The camera can be an invaluable rehearsal tool. The camera catches everything, good and bad, and you’ll be able to see every little facial expression, gesture and nervous habit. Record yourself again after making adjustments and to check improvement. When you can look and sound good on camera, you’re ready for an audience.

7. Try a small audience.

If you’re comfortable with this, gather together family, friends or colleagues, present your speech and ask for their honest appraisal of your content, organization and delivery. Incorporate any equipment you plan to use – flip chart, overheads, PowerPoint. You need to practice with it, otherwise you’re only rehearsing part of your presentation.

8. Practice, practice.

Continue rehearsing the speech aloud as much as

possible – in the car, in the shower. This will keep it fresh in your mind and you’ll continue to find new and interesting ways to say it.

9. Visualize.

Visualization can be a great tool for speakers. Close your eyes a few times, picture yourself being introduced, walking to the lectern, speaking confidently, and the audience applauding. Psychologists tell us that the brain records these pictures as actual events and will increase the likelihood of presenting a successful, stress-free speech.

10. Engage in a final dress rehearsal.

Until you acquire only what comes with experience, it may help to engage in a final dress rehearsal:

• wear the clothes you’ll wear for the event – look and feel the part;

• run through the entire presentation as though it was the real thing;

• get the feel of where the lectern will be and adapt to suit the setting; and

• keep an accurate time for your complete run-through.

If you can enlist the support of someone to listen to you and provide feedback at this time, all the better. If you make a mistake or notice a problem, don’t stop. Keep going and make any changes when you’ve finished. Take particular note of any feedback; especially how you felt about the presentation.

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