I can almost hear the chorus of, “Well durr!”, but stick with me…
Do you remember the kids at school that always said stuff like, “I’ve done no revision at all for these exams!”, when you knew full well they had been slaving away for weeks to prepare. Speak about rehearsing for a presentation at a conference and those kids all come out of the woodwork, but in the guise of Oracle geeks… Now I’m not calling these people liars, but rehearsal means very different things to different people.
For me, rehearsing involves the following to a greater or lesser degree:
- I’ll talk myself through little sections or topics. Not a formal thing. Just a quick couple of minutes when I’m bored, like waiting to fill the car with petrol.
- Try and remember what anecdotes, used to explain a point, come where in the presentation.
- Anticipating questions and thinking of how I would approach answering them.
- Walk through of the presentation while sitting at a computer. This is normally a super quick pass through. An hour presentation might take 15 minutes to practice in this way.
- A formal walk through, where I stand up and present to the window in my room, which typically takes about as long as the full presentation.
When people speak about rehearsal, they are normally only thinking about the last point. They seem to forget all the hours of work they’ve put in before that. If you are new to presenting and you read stuff by people saying they “just wing it”, I think you may be surprised at how much work actually goes into “just winging it”!
There are a few warnings I should give about rehearsals though, which may be specific to me, or common to others…
- Don’t try to learn lines so your presentation is word-perfect. This invariable sounds really dry and lifeless, unless you are a trained actor. You should be learning cues, which set you off down the next path. This way, your presentation is semi-ad-libbed, but has some structure. If you’ve rehearsed enough, you won’t get lost for words.
- Following on from that point about trying to be word-perfect, if you do forget “the script”, or someone interrupts you with a question, it can throw you so badly. Better to avoid this.
- Don’t rehearse to the point where you are bored of the presentation. Your lack of enthusiasm will be visible to all. Another point in favour of the semi-ad-libbed approach is each time you present the same slides it will be different.
- If you are doing multiple dates in a tour, you probably need to back off the rehearsals a little. It’s hard not to get stale when you’ve presented the same three talks 6 times in a couple of weeks.
Ultimately, you need to learn what works for you. If you watch someone like Connor McDonald, you know he’s put in crazy amounts of hours to get that stuff so slick. Others have a looser style, that probably requires less total rehearsal time. Suffice to say, if your talk goes badly, you probably need to put more effort in next time.