Why Rehearsing Leads to More Confidence
by Andrea Pacini —
When you watch the best athletes their movement seems completely natural and effortless.
The reason they look so at ease is because of the years of dedicated practice they’ve put in. No one is born with the ability to excel—it requires work.
The same is true for business presentations. It’s impossible to deliver a great speech without rehearsing it thoroughly.
You can spot a presenter who hasn’t rehearsed adequately. The giveaways are that they might:
- Fail to appear spontaneous
- Fail to deliver a presentation which flows in a natural or smooth way
- Use lots of verbal fillers—phrases like ‘you know’, ‘like’, ‘actually’, ‘um’, ‘ah’, ‘er’, etc.
- Fail to own the message
- Seem unprepared
- Sometimes panic before or during the presentation
The Value of Rehearsing
Rehearsing provides the opportunity to counter all those negative traits. The more times you can run through a presentation, the more freedom you’ll have to look spontaneous and deliver your message effortlessly.
Rehearsals will help you become a more confident presenter, own your message, enjoy the moment and focus on the audience. All those finer delivery skills like eye contact, body language and use of voice can only come if you rehearse.
If you can’t deliver your speech effectively it’s like having a Tesla in Ludicrous Mode (which gives it supercar performance of 0-60 mph in less than three seconds) without knowing how to drive. It makes no sense.
Do You Rehearse?
When I ask this question during my coaching and training sessions, most people tell me they do. When I probe deeper, it becomes clear they don’t, because they don’t really understand what proper rehearsal is.
Most conscientious people who have an important presentation coming up will put effort into thinking about what to say. They’ll go over the structure in their head. They might even flick through their deck, thinking about what to say for each slide.
This is not rehearsing. This is valuable preparation which will help. But it’s not enough to get you to the level you want.
Proper rehearsals mean delivering your presentation out loud as closely to the real situation as possible. It means speaking all of the words from beginning to end without stopping, as if there’s a real audience.
The closer the rehearsal can be at simulating the environment or conditions you’ll face the better.
For an online presentation, launch the conferencing software you’ll use, share your screen, and go through your material as if you’re presenting to a real audience.
If it will be an in-person presentation to six people, place six chairs in front of you or stick six Post-it Notes on the wall to practise eye contact with.
If you can rehearse in front of a mock audience of colleagues or friends that is ideal. This creates more pressure compared to rehearsing on your own.
Research has shown that the more pressure you can place yourself under during rehearsal the better the real presentation will go.
The famous saying ‘practice makes perfect’ is not entirely true. Practice only makes perfect if you do it properly.
A good example of meticulous rehearsal is the work Mark Leruste, the CEO and Founder of the Ministry of Purpose and the host of the award-winning podcast The Unconventionalists, put into his TEDx talk What They Don’t Tell You About Entrepreneurship.
I interviewed Mark for the Ideas on Stage podcast and he shared the behind-the-scenes preparation which had gone into his TEDx talk (watch from 00:40 to 05:04).
Mark told me how he had worked on the content for the talk for months, losing sleep and stressing about it—at the same time as starting a family and founding a new business.
However, with just three weeks to go, Mark committed to testing the speech to 21 friends over 21 days in 21 different locations across London.
He said it was one of the most challenging experiences as a speaker. Much of the feedback was awkward and difficult to hear but also very useful.
With just a few days to go before stepping on stage in front of a live crowd one friend admitted he felt the speech was ‘boring’. Mark told the friend an alternative idea and decided to scrap everything he had been working on for five months and start afresh.
The result was a fantastic talk which clocked up more than one million views and became the most watched TEDxCardiff talk to date. It shows why rehearsing in front of someone is so important. Without that honest feedback from his friends, Mark would never have made such fundamental and important changes which ultimately made for a great experience for his audience.
How much rehearsal should I do?
There’s no magic number as to how many times you should rehearse in preparation for a typical business presentation.
Based on my personal experience and from working with our clients I would say three times is the minimum. For some people that’s enough. Others will benefit from further rehearsal.
It’s also important to space out your rehearsals. Don’t cram them all into the last minute and do them consecutively. If I had two weeks before an event I would push myself to do five rehearsals equally spaced over that time.
Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist who did pioneering research into memory, published a detailed study in his 1885 book Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology.
He suggested that learning is more effective when we space out the sessions. We have a much better recall of information if we do that rather than cramming the study into one day.
That advice applies just as much to rehearsing for a presentation as it does to revising for an exam.
Rehearse Beyond Robotic
I often hear business leaders worrying that rehearsing will make their presentation appear robotic. The only time that will happen is if you haven’t rehearsed enough.
In TED Talks, Chris Anderson says that rehearsing is like climbing a mountain. If you start your climb but stop immediately, you’ll never get to the top.
If you only rehearse once or twice for a presentation and stop, you’ll appear robotic. You need to keep climbing to get to the summit and reach the point where you’ve internalised your message.
This is distinct from trying to memorise a presentation word for word. That works for some people but in most cases it’s not necessary. What is important is to internalise your content.
You need to know exactly what to say, what the key messages are and what the structure is. That’s when you’ll be confident in your ability to deliver a great presentation.
The more you rehearse, the more confident you’ll be. Stop at the point you know the material well enough to be able to deliver it without any aids.
Making the time to rehearse
A common fear is that people don’t have the time to rehearse, especially when faced with limited time to prepare for a big presentation.
Instead of spending extra time tweaking slides or worrying over every exact word, invest time into rehearsing. It will pay off.
As Lee Warren says in The Busy Person’s Guide To Great Presenting, when you think about rehearsing, you only have two options: you either rehearse before a presentation or you rehearse in front of the audience.
In other words, if you haven’t rehearsed in advance, your presentation will just be a rehearsal for what could have been.
Any great presenter will rehearse many times before you see them appear to deliver a brilliant performance.
Time spent rehearsing a presentation is never wasted. Being properly rehearsed allows you to relax and enjoy the presentation. It allows you to focus on your delivery and the audience.
Rehearsal is not the same thing as preparation. A proper rehearsal is when you deliver the actual presentation in a situation which is as close to the real event as possible.
I recommend that everyone rehearses a presentation at least three times, spacing out the rehearsals over the time available.
The more rehearsals you can do the more confident you’ll be—and the better your presentation will be.
If this article resonates with you and has helped you, feel free to offer some feedback. I always welcome opinions, thoughts and questions. If you have colleagues or friends who might benefit from the ideas please share the article.
If you want to become a more confident presenter, take the Confident Presenter Scorecard. Answer simple Yes/No questions, get an instant score plus suggestions for improvement. It takes less than 3 minutes. Once you complete the scorecard, you’ll receive a free pdf copy of my best-selling book Confident Presenter.
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