A few years back, I taught a college public speaking course at a private high school as a part of a college credit program for seniors. I would be teaching two days a week for a little over an hour. It was a unique situation, so I didn’t have the opportunity to visit my classroom prior to the first day. I tried to be open to this new opportunity, but I was unprepared for what I saw when I got there.

I was scheduled to teach in a chemistry lab. The only lecture space was behind a huge, stationary, waist-high table cluttered with the chemistry teacher’s books and equipment. The room didn’t have any suitable space for someone to speak in front of an audience. It just wouldn’t work for a public speaking class. I made the best of that first day and then visited the office after teaching. I begged for a new room. Thankfully, they moved us to the choir room.

In most performance arts like theater and music, there’s something called a dress rehearsal. I could have used one for my teaching assignment at the high school. It’s the final run-through that allows the performers to work out any remaining issues and to be fully prepared for the big day.

This practice can be beneficial for the performance-based art of public speaking as well. It allows speakers to address technical, environmental, and speaker concerns to make sure the presentation goes as smoothly as possible.

Technical Concerns

A dress rehearsal will allow you to make sure the technology you’ll be using is functioning properly. Few things are more frustrating or distracting during a presentation than issues with technology. Specifically, you’ll want to check and adjust the audio level of the microphone if you are using one and any presentation media that has sound. Also, check to make sure your slides are working properly. Switching from computers, to programs, even to different versions of the same program can cause problems with your presentation media. Head of TED, Chris Anderson, says, “Never give a presentation unless you have walked through your slides—and especially videos—on the equipment that will actually be used to show them.”

Environmental Concerns

Make sure the presentation environment is conducive to your needs and to the needs of your audience. Look at how the chairs are set up. Does the room foster the communication setting you are aiming for? Is the temperature okay? What about the lighting; is there anything that can or should be adjusted? Are there any distractions in the room (like fliers on a bulletin board or handouts on the table) that can be removed or minimized? Look at the room through the eyes of your audience. Can you change anything in the space to make the presentation and the audience’s experience better?

Speaker Concerns

It is always helpful to get a feel for the space in which you’ll be presenting. Just knowing more about your presentation setting can do a great deal to ease any nervousness you may have. Dr. Alicia Meuret, Director of the Anxiety and Depression Research Center at SMU says, “If somebody is prone to being anxious . . . [he] will focus on that 5% that is somewhat unknown or even 1% where we don’t have enough information.” The more information you have about your setting going into your presentation, the more confident you’ll feel.

You may not always be able to have a complete dress rehearsal for every presentation you give, but it’s a good ideal to aim for. Looking back, even though I couldn’t visit the high school prior to my first day with my students, I should have asked for pictures of the classroom in which I would be teaching. A dress rehearsal would have been a huge help. It’s a crucial step in presentation preparation, one that can curb potential problems and boost your confidence.

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