The vice president of sales for the world's leading copier manufacturer has a unique policy: he requires all of his sales representatives to practice their product presentation in front of him and a panel of sales managers before the reps present to prospective buyers. Like the director of a Broadway play, he and his team rehearse with the reps until they can deliver the message with clarity and confidence. It's a training-intensive, time-consuming process; however, he believes dedicated practice is a key reason his reps sell more copiers than any other company in the world.
Being a great speaker and presenter is not about being perfect. It's about engaging your listeners in a meaningful way and giving them an exceptional experience that has value for them. This means being yourself at your very best: prepared, purposeful, and proficient. If you would like to go from ordinary to extraordinary, practice will get you there. Here are seven tips to help:
1. Avoid memorizing a script word-for-word. This approach inevitably ends up sounding mechanical and insincere. Instead, memorize concepts. That is, know your outline and flow very well. Know the key points you want to make. Learn the gist of each slide or section; however, realize that each time you practice aloud, the words themselves will come out sounding a bit different. The gist, or meaning, will be the same but the particular order and selection of words may be different. This approach helps ensure a natural conversational delivery.
2. Rehearse the opening. What would you like to say in the first 60 seconds? Will it be a warm greeting, followed by a brief self-introduction, and a purpose statement? Will you have an attention-getter such as a personal story, headline, or shocking statistic? Whatever format you use, practice it aloud enough times so that you do not have to read notes or refer to slides. A smooth confident opening allows you to establish effective eye contact right away and establishes instant credibility.
3. Practice in front of a mirror. Do your gestures look natural and relaxed? Are you standing tall and straight with your weight evenly balanced? Does your face project a pleasant positive attitude? You won't know unless you watch yourself present. Run through the opening several times in front of a mirror to ensure you're projecting the visual image you want.
4. Do the 10-second-per-slide drill. Imagine that on every slide, you say to your audience, "The main point I want you to get from this slide is ___________." Practice aloud the key point in ten seconds or less on every slide. In the actual presentation setting, you may speak two or three minutes on each slide; however, the 10-second-per-slide drill ensures you know the key take-away for every slide and can articulate it clearly and concisely, regardless of how much extra verbiage you may say. This drill significantly reduces rambling and improves clarity and brevity.
5. Conduct a dress rehearsal. Run through the entire presentation and time it. From start to finish, using your visual aids, talk through the whole message. Give your body, voice, emotions, and mind a complete dress rehearsal. Include appropriate pauses and transitions. Avoid interrupting your rehearsal to wordsmith your lines or tweak a slide. Keep going. Turn off the 'editor' in your brain and let the let the 'performer' take over. Remember, "the show must go on." If possible, invite an audience to observe your dress rehearsal and offer feedback. Practice in the actual presentation room or setting if possible.
6. Record your practice sessions and dress rehearsal. With the prevalence of smart phones today, it's easier than ever to record yourself. Few people enjoy watching or listening to themselves on a recording; however, doing so greatly speeds the learning curve and enables you to make immediate improvements.
7. Rehearse the closing. Know how you're going to end your talk. Will you close with a compelling vision statement, or a confident recommendation, or an urgent request? Whatever technique you choose, practice it aloud enough times to finish with confidence while looking directly into the eyes of your listeners. The goal is to leave your audience with a positive lasting impression. Remember to say last what you want them to remember most.
"How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" asked the New York City tourist to a cab driver. The driver replied, "Practice, practice, practice." Practice doesn't make you perfect, but that's not the goal. It makes you better and more proficient. It prepares you mentally, emotionally, physically, and vocally so you can give your audience an extraordinary gift: you being yourself at your very best.
If you would like to learn more rehearsal techniques and the essentials of effective presentation skills, please read my book Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results (available in Hardcover, Kindle, and Audio).
Feel free to contact me directly to schedule an in-house corporate training event for your team. I would be honored to support your presentation success.