I am a huge advocate of rehearsing a presentation multiple times before giving it (even though I hate rehearsing as much as the next person). Rehearsal has a multitude of benefits:
- It helps you internalize content, making it less likely you'll forget what to say.
- It makes your delivery sound more polished and confident.
- It helps minimize nervousness because you know you're prepared.
One of the key methods I recommend is rehearsing out loud so you can hear what you sound like. But recently a wise colleague challenged me when I recommended this approach in one of my bi-weekly Presentation Tips communiques, saying, "...you are making an unvoiced assumption of competence."
He went on to say, "If I don't know how to hit a golf ball correctly, practicing hitting one before I play a round of golf serves to erode my confidence. Tiger Woods, on the other hand, benefits a great deal by practicing before a round as he knows how to correct any swing flaws that surface during the practice."
It's an excellent point. The crux of the issue is whether or not the person rehearsing knows: how to do the activity correctly AND how to assess or evaluate the result.
HOW TO DO THE ACTIVITY CORRECTLY
With presentation skills, the trial and error method is a possibility, but it has potentially serious consequences. If you repeatedly employ poor presentation techniques, because of lack of knowledge or lack of awareness, you will get a reputation as a poor presenter and audiences will punish you with lack of attention and lack of response.
Learning the best practices of presentation skills through formal training, coaching or reading books is certainly the most effective way to improve.
HOW TO EVALUATE THE RESULT
Once you have acquired knowledge about what's effective and what's not effective in a presentation, then your rehearsal takes on a different face. Now, like Tiger Woods in the earlier example, you are better equipped to assess when you are deviating from what's effective. Moreover, you have a better idea of how to correct it.
At this point, you will get value from rehearsing out loud. Here are some other ways to help you evaluate your performance and effectiveness:
- Videotape yourself. When you can see as well as hear yourself, you get a fuller picture of your likely impact on an audience.
- Better yet, rehearse in front of colleagues who can give you feedback on how you come across.
- Even better, rehearse in front of a professional who can not only assess your skills but also provide coaching on how to correct or enhance aspects of your presentation.