From Paper to Podium: Rehearse your way to prime time

Think back to the last conference you attended. While an event’s keynote or session speakers may be subject matter experts, most are not professional speakers. If you’ve ever wondered what makes one presenter sparkle while others fall flat, I’d bet you the difference is the time each speaker spent rehearsing.

Many speakers believe that their presentations are ready for prime time the moment the toner's dry on their PowerPoint printout. If you've reviewed your presentation in your head and feel prepared to deliver it to an audience...think again. Until you’ve rehearsed out loud — multiple times — you can't truly tell what works and what doesn't, what trips you up, what's too complicated, or what just doesn't sound like you.

My rule of thumb is that a presentation that's "well done" on paper is probably about 70% done in reality. On average, it takes three to five focused rehearsals for a speaker to really seal the deal — especially when it comes to critical or career-defining presentations.

Certainly, preparing for a weekly staff meeting report doesn’t demand three to five rehearsal sessions. But when the pressure’s on, there’s no replacement for a structured rehearsal plan that will help deliver the results you need when you step up to the podium.

For example, my client Dan was speaking in front of his largest audience ever — 300+ attendees at a national conference. Talk about high stakes! The conference host was his largest client, his new boss would be in attendance, and his remarks would introduce and frame the content of a subsequent panel discussion.

Let's break down Dan’s rehearsal schedule so you can start to see how it helped him achieve his desired outcome:

1st Rehearsal. Start with the basics. During this first session, Dan read his script aloud to assess its flow and length. He also took the opportunity to fine-tune his message so it felt and sounded more like “him.”

2nd Rehearsal. This is your chance to continue tightening your message, confirm your timing and make sure that any props (including your PowerPoint) truly support the content. Dan practiced with his equipment, and also began taking note of his physical presentation to begin the transition from content-driven to delivery-focused. This step ensures that all your points are delivered with the intended weight and significance.

3rd Rehearsal. An audience will form an opinion about you before you utter a single word, based solely on your appearance and body language. By rehearsing in front of a mirror and focusing on his facial expressions (don’t forget to smile!) and delivery skills like vocal variety, gestures and eye contact, Dan started to make this career-building presentation truly his own.

4th Rehearsal. Now’s the time to practice with an audience to continue building your confidence and get some constructive feedback. Dan asked some supportive colleagues to point out any distracting mannerisms and suggest what he might consider doing differently. If anything doesn't feel comfortable, this is your chance to to to go Plan B. If you’ll be using a teleprompter, include it in this practice session as well.

Final Rehearsal.Too many presenters stop short and don't rehearse at the actual venue. Take advantage of on-site rehearsals to orient yourself to your surroundings and make sure your equipment is set to go. This will not only bolster your confidence, but also allow you to prepare for any last-minute changes.

The key to dynamic speaking comes from striking a balance between content and delivery — something not always easily achieved, especially when the pressure is on and the stakes are high. If you’ve been tasked with a make-or-break presentation — or are simply interested in taking your communication skills to the next level, remember to build in a rehearsal schedule to ensure your success!

Author's Bio: 

A strategic communication advisor, Stephanie Scotti helps people deliver winning presentation where the stakes are high . . . and results matter Drawing on her 25 years of coaching experience and 8 years of teaching presentation skills for Duke University, Stephanie understands what it takes to transform information into knowledge and knowledge into action that achieves results.

Stephanie has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, the highest levels of government officials, and international business executives.

An active member of National Speakers Association and an award-winning leadership professional, She also volunteers as a speaker or communications coach for non-profits such as the Red Cross and the Governing Institute of New Jersey. Stephanie holds a Bachelor’s in Speech Communications & Education and a Master’s in Organizational Communications & Business.