By now you have spent countless hours crafting your story-line, included the most relevant supporting points, eliminated unnecessary charts (hopefully lots!) or data points that don’t contribute to a lean narrative and finally designed a presentation deck that looks so crisp and sharp that you just can't wait to show to your boss. Naturally, you are also nervous because although you know this material like the back of your hand, you are nowhere near ready to deliver a seamless and smooth presentation that looks fluid and natural.
You might wonder how TED speakers or master presenters do it to make it look so smooth? They look in complete control and have the audience eating from the palm of their hand. Their words fly out of their mouths seamlessly and with no effort, but you feel nowhere close. In fact, you feel a little stuck.
The truth is that most “natural” presenters are not natural at all. They have gone through the effort of practicing and rehearsing their presentations over and over to the point in which there's no other way in which they would look but almost perfect. And that is exactly what you need to do now.
Why practice makes perfect
Practicing your presentation can improve your delivery dramatically by helping you commit your message to memory which in turn allows you to connect with your audience more effectively since your words will flow in a more conversational way.
When you know your content well, you will be able to place more focus on the room dynamics and make more accurate assessments of the engagement level of your audience. This will help you make any necessary changes to your presentation on the spot. You will also be able to add more speed or slow down the pace of delivery effortlessly.
Even if your anxiety before a presentation does not completely subsides, rehearsals can certainly decrease the unease. Practice your presentation in order to have a more casual and conversational delivery that is brimming with enthusiasm rather than apprehension.
The best presentations are relevant and a joy to watch, make sure to have fun while delivering. It will keep your audience engaged and make your message memorable.
Practice the Old School way (and with tech)
Traditionally, practicing can be done in front of a mirror or in front of someone you trust. I try to rehearse every new presentation or lecture I give at least three times. The process to increase confidence and retention when delivering a new presentation usually goes like this:
1. Create a handout with all the notes from all the slides in your deck. This can be as simple as a word doc with the text of your slides with the headings for each slides.
2. Read the handout once as if you were delivering the presentation trying to have as much “eye contact” as possible.
3. Read the handout a second time, now trying to focus more on the headlines and important keywords on your notes. As in the previous rehearsal, practice improving the level of eye contact compared to the previous time.
4. The third and final rehearsal will be recorded, and you need to focus on the headings only. You can record easily with your smartphone. Again this does not need to be high tech or fancy. Just a simple video recording will do. This will serve as your source of feedback. Once you observe yourself delivering the presentation, make notes of the instances that need to be modified to improve your delivery. Observe your non-verbal language and the areas of the presentation that need to be committed to memory. The idea is that after observing yourself, you will make a more accurate assessment for areas that needs improvement and dedicate additional time to make those sections of your speech flow with more ease.
Another way of improving your delivery and overall speaking habits is to make use of modern technologies to improve your speech. This past summer I had the pleasure to meet the developer of LikeSo app. This app focus on improving the speaking habits of its users through practice that is initiated with different prompts. The settings can include scenarios such as debate, interviews, free speech or even speed dating! You can make real assessments of your speaking habits and improve your articulation while becoming aware of the use of filler language. I think it’s a fun way to develop your speaking skills and continuously improve them overtime.
Once you have mastered your delivery to a point in which it feels natural, consider these tips to compliment your newly gained confidence with a calm state of mind.
1. Visualize yourself delivering a great speech.
Find here a calming audio visualization to hear before every delivery – download here.
2. Dress appropriately and comfortably
3. Take a few deep breaths before entering the room.
4. Greet the audience and interact with them prior to the presentation.
The rewards of a well-rehearsed presentation are many and can go far beyond just an excellent delivery as this personal story illustrates.
Years ago as a junior analyst, I was getting ready to deliver an annual research report to the top brand managers of our P&G account in Latin America. I found myself practicing and perfecting the deck with my boss (and his boss) in a conference room for two days until probably 11 pm each night before the actual presentation day – Thank God for Pizza!
We worked with the flow, delivery and transitioning from section to section of the report tirelessly, through the cycle of delivery-feedback-delivery, over and over again until we were happy with the results. In the end, I credit the extensive hours of rehearsing that got us out of a data-related stumble during the actual presentation - effortlessly. The result was a top-notch delivery that allowed us to commission another year of study for the agency and a six-figure research contract for the team.