After hours, maybe even weeks or months, of preparation developing the perfect presentation, you now have your finished slides ready to be delivered to your awaiting audience. The message is powerful, the design is perfect and the content is sharp.
Now, the question is, how much do you practice on your delivery of this long-awaited presentation?
Do you pick up the hairbrush and pretend to speak into a microphone? Or, are you one of those fortunate enough to confidently step on stage on the day and start reeling off the presentation nonchalantly?
Whatever option you choose, make sure you don’t fall into some of the pitfalls that can blight even the best presenters...
Rehearsals - There's No Magic Number
"You can take 100 penalties in training, but when you go out on that pitch in front of all those people and the television cameras, it’s completely different."
As former footballer Alan Shearer sagely demonstrates, there is no way of replicating the one that matters. All the perfect rehearsals are fine but if you’re stumbling over your words in front of your audience then that’s what they’ll remember. But does that mean you should ignore practice? Certainly not, getting up on the stage before the presentation day gets you to grips with the space in which you will be presenting and can certainly be a way of alleviating those fears. That way you can see any potential technical issues (lighting, sound, visuals, etc.). And go some way to filtering out those unnecessary worries.
Using Alan Shearer’s advice, practising 100 times isn’t recommended, we all have our limit for practise. So, knowing when to stop when you’re at a comfortable level is a key part - practice too much and you run the risk of not enjoying yourself. Don’t forget that you need to relish the presentation as much as your audience.
The Power Of The Test Audience
"Some of the greatest scenes I ever saw were played out in front of me with no camera to capture it for anybody else… sometimes I couldn’t recapture the magic."
Legendary film director Steven Spielberg’s pursuit of perfection has taken the unorthodox approach of not doing rehearsals with his actors due to the worry of missing the magic of that first performance.
Films and TV shows are constantly testing their ‘finished’ product in front of test audiences to gauge what a ‘typical’ reaction might be before a cinema release date. This gives the creators an opportunity to re-edit or re-shoot scenes to ‘improve’ the final product. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a fine art. When 2001 sitcom The Office, was shown to a test audience it was given the lowest score for a BBC show ever, apart from Women’s Bowls. It went on to be widely regarded as one of the greatest British sitcoms ever. The test audience probably weren’t asked back for more opinions on future BBC projects.
Test audiences are also asked for suggestions on how they may have changed a project, and this nearly changed the magnificently downbeat ending of 1995 thriller Se7en, with test audiences trying to replace a certain item in a box with something not quite so disturbing. Conversely, test audiences are also accountable for some (arguably) wonderful suggestions which gave us the beautiful final scene in The Shawshank Redemption and the closing embrace of Pretty Woman. Many of us may have had our childhood tarnished if one cut of Spielberg’s E.T. made it through without a test audience having their say (clue: E.T. doesn’t make it home). So, Spielberg listens to his audience as well as his own instincts!
So, with your presentation, how can you ensure you’re getting the right balance between ‘practice makes perfect’ and ‘capturing the magic’ first time round?
Quality over quantity
It’s safe to say practising 100 times is unlikely to help. Practice is inevitable but the key is to ensure those practices are good quality. Film yourself, watch it back and try to be impartial. Are you boring? Are you engaging? Viewing your delivery through the audience's eyes and see what you can find out.
Be open to change (not an easy thing for any of us). So, if you like to practice or not, give it a go and watch different versions of you practising. Watch your first and your last. Did you notice a difference in quality? If version one is the best version of ten, then maybe lots of practice isn’t for you. Likewise, if your last version is your strongest then you get stronger with practice.
Deliver a clear key message
Once you have delivered your presentation, you now need good feedback and to know that your key message has been delivered clearly. It is really important to be able to adapt to your audience’s needs, after all, it’s a privilege to be able to stand in front them and present in the first place. To get your message across, do you need more energy? Or maybe less? Perhaps you’re going too quickly? Or not quickly enough? Whatever it takes, keep trying different methods to ensure your audience understand your key message as clearly as possible. If your current method hasn’t worked, then try and work out why and make strides to improve.
The key is to be open to new methods and make sure you don’t miss a trick in getting the best version of your presentation out of yourself. Whichever way works for you, don’t let the pursuit of perfection be the enemy of good.
To learn more about delivering your presentation, take a look at our presentation training courses.