Three Times Is a Charm
In our recent blog, “Ten Tips to Help You Prepare Your Presentation,” we recommend that you practice at least three times before speaking in public. I asked our two top trainers, Beth and Alasdair, why.
Q: Why should people read through their presentations three times? I understand that it differs from person to person, but in general, how, when, and where should the average presenter practice for maximum impact?
Alasdair: The best place to practice is in a room with the whole team that will be attending the presentation. Don’t just do a read-through. Stand up and deliver the presentation properly. The first time will be clunky, but it will help you begin matching the talk track and visuals together. The second time will probably be the best and smoothest. The third time is primarily to focus on any bits that are still a little sticky. You should do it the day before your speech, so you can sleep on it.
Beth: Your brain is processing information differently each time you run through the presentation, so it’s important to practice in stages, preferably the day before the real show. We suggest that the entire team spend at least a half-day before rehearsals on reviewing and finalizing content. This will give everyone a chance to add, edit and familiarize themselves with the whole story before the pressure of standing up and rehearsing begins.
On the day of rehearsal, start around 9 a.m. This should give your team time to take care of emails and other loose ends before committing their time and attention to the job at hand.
The first run-through should be informal, mainly talking through messaging and asking the team for help, when you need it. At the end of each presenter’s section, give the team an opportunity to provide feedback and encouragement. Highlighting the messages that resonated with someone will help each speaker remember what works. The speaker should also stand, as your body needs to practice as well.
The second rehearsal should go straight through the entire presentation with no breaks between presenters. This will give you your team the first and best idea of timing, and it will identify problem areas where the presenter might go too long, go off on a tangent, or miss the message. Constructive feedback should focus the presenter.
By the third run, presenters should be familiar with their builds and transitions, and they can find places in the deck where they can step into the screen and start directing the audience’s attention to key visuals.
Q: Do people who practice more than three times continue to improve?
Beth: In my experience, yes, but with diminishing returns. After the third time, you might begin to doubt the work that you and your team have done. It’s hard to trust the process.
Real problems can be introduced after you have developed your story and rehearsed it with your team, and then go up to your hotel room and change everything. It will be a surprise for everyone else, which could create some potentially bad body language, when they hear the new version for the first time in front of the audience.
Q: Do some clients try to cut corners? How has that impacted their presentations?
Alasdair: Some do no rehearsal at all. They do slide editing and arguing over content, rather than rehearsing it. Or they do informal run-throughs, where they talk about what they are going to say rather than saying it. All of this can increase your chances of going off topic, talking for too long, stealing content from other speakers, contradicting other speakers, or answering a question too early, which could also force them to repeat themselves.
Beth: Some companies simply don’t value the presentation, because “everyone hates PowerPoint.” They don’t invest the time in preparing the deck or the team properly. They believe that it’s too costly to take the team out of the business for two days to prepare it.
Some companies will repurpose a presentation that was used for another client, changing a few words or images. The team doesn’t even take the time to build the story together, and each member of the team will just send a project manager the slides they are comfortable with, which becomes what we call a “Frankendeck.” It doesn’t look great, and it comes off as a collection of subject matter experts talking at an audience, instead of a team that works together to show what the prospect will experience, if they decide to buy it.
ProTip: Don’t surprise your teammates with new content after you’ve already practiced your presentation together.
Q: Is it easy to tell when your clients haven’t practiced?
Beth: Yes. Their timing is way off. Most people have a tell, when they’re not familiar with the content. They might turn around and look at an unfamiliar slide for a full minute. It’s painful for the audience to watch.
If it’s a team presentation, you can see it in their body language. When the presenter says something that doesn’t sit well with their colleagues, cue the eye rolls and crossed arms.
Alasdair. Yes. You see the surprise on their face when a slide comes up that they were not expecting. They might read the slide title, to buy themselves time and think of something to say. Or read the entire slide word for word. There’s no awareness of timing.
Q: Can someone be too prepared?
Alasdair: Maybe. If doing too much preparation stops you from being yourself or if team members have pressured you into using words or a style that is not your own, it can take away from the final presentation. We want you to have confidence in the story and yourself, not be word-for-word perfect.
Beth: Almost never. Time is our most valuable resource, and the amount each one of us has is finite and unknown. When you think about that as a presenter, this is time you are taking away from someone. You should do everything you can to make it worth their while—and yours.
We did work with an executive in the food service industry, who was also a chef by trade. Each time he got up to rehearse, he completely changed his story. As a result, his message kept getting lost. He was eager to do well, practiced often, and was very open to coaching. It was difficult to figure out what was going wrong. We finally realized that as a chef, he was programmed to experiment until he reached perfection. That’s almost impossible in public speaking, and the audience doesn’t usually want perfection anyway. Stumbling a little bit makes a speaker seem more vulnerable and accessible. We had to convince him to give himself a break, relax and have some fun with it. It worked!