How To Rehearse For A Presentation

As a TEDxNashville board member, I have the honor of helping TEDx speakers prepare for their TEDxNashville talks. Because TED‘s influence spans the globe, even the most experienced speakers tend to get nervous as they prepare for their time on the TEDx stage.

Last week, multiple speakers contacted me, asking for tips on memorizing their talk. They are worried that they will forget their material when they take the stage. This is an understandable and common concern. In addition to responding via email, I will also answer their question here since many of you probably also have the same question.

Since there are many ways to practice for a talk, you should experiment with the different suggestions below. Find one that works for you and stick with it, or mix and match techniques to create your own unique approach.

1. Don’t wing it.

Some speakers worry that practice will decrease their authenticity on stage, however the opposite is true. A prepared speaker can focus on the audience, walk around the stage, and enjoy the moment, instead of focusing all of their attention on developing and delivering a structured and meaningful presentation on the fly.

Trust me, the more you practice, the more authentic you can be on stage. For example, if you notice that audience members are falling asleep, you can spontaneously add an interactive element to your talk, and then get back on course, because you know your material that well.  If you do not know your material, being present in the moment will be nearly impossible.

2. Understand your material, don’t memorize it.

To understand your material, break it into 5 chunks, or sections. The 5 parts should be your intro, your conclusion, and the 3 most important points of your presentation. If you identify more than 3 major points, you probably need to edit your talk to avoid overwhelming the audience with too much information.

As you practice your talk, don’t rehearse your content verbatim. Instead, give yourself the freedom to be natural and speak conversationally, while also remembering to present your 5 core elements. By practicing repeatedly in a conversational style, you will naturally learn your presentation in its entirety, however you will not feel pressured to recite your talk word-for-word when you present.

The pressure to perform a script is what trips most speakers when they get on stage. If they miss one word of their script, they often start to stumble because their mind only understands their talk as a step-by-step process, with each step of the process triggered by the exact words they rehearsed.

If you can remember the 3 most important “chunks” plus the intro and conclusion, you should have no problem flowing through the other supporting elements. And even if you forget a supporting point or two, your talk should still be strong because you included the 3 main points.

3. Practice in the real world.

If you are only practicing in front of a mirror at home, or reading your slides from the comfort of your couch, your efforts are not going to yield impressive results. Don’t hide away when you practice your presentation. Bring your presentation into the real world by practicing in front of real people, not the audience in your mind.  

To prepare for presenting in front of a mentor, colleagues, or friends and family members, first record videos of some of your private practice sessions. Remember to stand up, use your slides, and take your practice seriously. Try to make your practice sessions feel as much like the real thing as possible. By watching recordings of your talk, you can eliminate any glaring problems with your content, slide design, or delivery.

Also, take advantage of all of the benefits of your recordings by listening to some of your practice sessions when you commute to work, or walk around your neighborhood. Listening to your presentation, instead of only reading or speaking it, will give you a fresh perspective on your material.

Next, reach out to some of your contacts who are similar to the demographic of your target audience. Once you have a few willing participants, practice your talk in front of them, and solicit constructive feedback following your presentation. Do not be offended by any of the suggestions or questions. Remember, you are practicing to work out any kinks in your talk, not to collect compliments.

Conclusion

When preparing for a TEDx talk, a business presentation, or a sales pitch, practice makes perfect. There are no shortcuts, only suggestions for making your time more productive. No matter how you slice it, you will need to invest a big chunk of your time rehearsing your material. Don’t wait to get started, begin your practice routine immediately.

Additional Resources:

The Complete Guide to Practicing Before a Presentation

You Must Rehearse Your Presentation [Video]





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