Why Presentation Rehearsal Makes Sense

Think you’re good enough to roll up to the podium, or take the floor in the seminar room and embark on a cold launch of a presentation or speech? Many people think they can do it, but let me assure you there are very few who are actually capable of pulling it off. Sorry to pour water on the fire, but behind every great speech there are many hours of rehearsal.

I am amazed how many people dismiss the rehearsal process as little more than an inconvenient read through, just to ‘make sure it’s all there’. Common reasons given for not rehearsing are: no time, no need or no reason why rehearsing is going to make a difference.

The excuses belie the reality that there are several good reasons why you should be rehearsing, and these are also backed up scientific research.

The Science of Rehearsal

If you are the sporting type then you will be aware of the concept of muscle-memory. The concept applies to any sporting action the swing of a tennis racket, golf club or foot when striking a range of ball sizes. The first time you perform any of these motions their execution is clumsy and uncoordinated but through practice that motion quickly becomes smoother.

In the same vein, motor preparation refers to the process of ‘perception influencing action’. If you would like to delve into the deep science then be my guest but, put in layman’s terms, this concept refers to the process of a bodily action (for our purposes giving a presentation) being influenced by the perception of said action (in this case rehearsing for a presentation).
Quite literally, the process of going through the motions helps to prepare the brain for the real thing, so that come the moment your brain is focused on the task and not focused on trying to fathom out what you’re supposed to be doing.

Repetition Commits to Memory

If you want an example of this then consider how much easier it is to give the same speech a second time, even if you haven’t even looked at it for months or even years. Yes there may be a few initial cobwebs, but how quickly does the brain pick up where it left off? As if by magic, we are suddenly able to remember lines and often whole sections. Of course there is no magic, just a lot of practice to thank.

Presentation rehearsal is so much more than just reading your lines. It’s about placing yourself in the zone, considering – in advance – your environment, your audience and how you will interact with it. I would argue that with the ubiquity of video recording at many events – whether it be live streaming on social media or post conference content released onto the web – presentation rehearsal is more relevant now than ever before.

Rehearsal Makes For Great Politics

So if you are now persuaded to make more of an effort in the rehearsal space, then be assured that you will be joining the company of some distinguished orators. One who comes to mind is Margaret Thatcher who, as the country’s first female Prime Minister, worked harder than many a PM on projecting the right image.

It is well known that she embarked on voice training to turn herself from ‘shrill’ to ‘stately’ as video footage shows. In the process she gained a hard edged charisma that was encapsulated in her Iron Lady nickname. Alongside this transformation was her reputation for extensively rehearsing key speeches with her aides to get the tone right and to make sure points hit home with suitable gravitas. Barack Obama was another who put great stock into analyzing his speeches and it is said he spent three days rehearsing for the 2012 presidential debates.

‘How long should I spend rehearsing’ is a question I get asked a lot. My advice is that it depends on the importance of the presentation or speech. Assuming a reasonable importance, then I’d recommend three full rehearsals (given the already large demands on your time). The first is a bit of a stagger through to ensure that your purpose is clear throughout the presentation. The second is your first ‘off book’ rehearsal which must be out loud and recorded so that you can hear how your words and sentences sound out loud. This is also an opportunity to get comfortable with the slides. The third is your battle conditions rehearsal and needs to be in front of at least one other person, preferably filming you so that you can see how you come across, who will give robust and constrictive feedback as well as keeping an eye on your all-important timing-keeping.

Follow this simple structure of rehearsal and you will reap the dividends. Just because others don’t doesn’t mean it is not needed. It will set you above the rest.