Believe it or not, preparation is a better determinant of presentation success than knowledge, experience, or even talent. The best presenter is almost always the presenter who is the most prepared. Even so, there are a lot of conflicting ideas about what constitutes thorough presentation preparation.
So what exactly is thorough preparation?
Here are seven straight forward tips to increase the effectiveness of the time you invest in your practice.
1. Practice Delivery Out Loud. Practice is NOT mentally rehearsing your presentation on the drive over to the presentation or even thinking about your presentation while tossing and turning at night. Both of these are something, but not practice. A lot can happen between thinking about what you want to say and actually getting the words to come out of your mouth coherently. If you don't actually practice speaking out loud, when the time comes, you may struggle to articulate your mentally well rehearsed thoughts. To the audience, this struggle will appear to be lack of preparation.
2. Try to Conduct Your Practice in a Situation Similar to the Real Speaking Venue. Whenever possible, conduct your practice in a situation that closely mirrors the real presentation. For example, if you will be speaking in front of a large group in an auditorium or large conference room, try to practice in a large room filled with as many audience recruits as possible. Why? Research indicates that if your practice closely mirrors your real presentation, once you are in the actual presentation your brain will think you have done this before. Besides practice, the next most important ingredient in your success is experience.
3. Practice in Front of Real People. If you can't find any audience recruits at work, ask your spouse, best friend, or if all else fails, your pet to listen to your presentation. Interacting with a live audience is an important part of your practice. It helps you not only rehearse your delivery, but gain experience reading and reacting to the silent messages your audience is sending you about their understanding, their likes, and their dislikes.
4. The Mirror is Your Friend. Even after you've practiced in front of an audience, continue to rehearse in front of the greatest critic of all, yourself in the mirror. The mirror is a WONDERFUL if underused presentation practice tool. It will allow you to see and hear your delivery live and make decisions about how to enhance your style. Remember, when it comes to practicing your presentation, the mirror really is your friend.
5. Practice From Beginning to End Without Stopping. Practice all the way through the presentation without stopping-even if you make a mistake. Most presenters have a tendency to stop their practice each time they make a mistake. Besides reinforcing this negative practice, when you continually stop and start over you get very good at the beginning of the presentation, but can't deliver an effective conclusion because you've rarely made it to the end of the presentation. As the second most remembered part of your presentation, it is important to have a strong, well-rehearsed close.
6. Practice With Your Props. If you are using visual aids such as a PowerPoint slide show, make sure you practice with your slides. Visual aids of any kind add another layer of complexity to presentation and require practice to use effectively. Practicing with your slides will help prepare you for the things that inevitably go wrong and help you avoid unprofessional behaviors such as not knowing how to advance your slide show or how to put the slide show in the proper view for display.
7. Do it One More Time. After you feel you've done it well in practice and are happy with your performance, practice one more time to make sure your success wasn't just a happy accident. All in all, depending upon you and your content, you may need to practice your presentation delivery out loud 5 to 10 times. Yes, that's right, you might have to practice out loud up to 10 times, but don't worry, your audience's thundering applause will make the effort worthwhile!
Debbie Bailey is a well-known Presentation Skills Consultant and author of the book "15 Presentation Secrets - How to WOW Even the Toughest Audience," available at trainer2go.com/ebooks.html. For more information about Debbie, go to http://www.trainer2go.com.