There is good presentation practice and there is bad presentation practice.
Extremely bad practice.
But how can you say, Professor, that there is such a thing as “bad presentation practice?”
Aren’t you pleased that folks are at least . . . practicing?
Bad practice is pernicious.
It’s insidious, and at times can be worse than no practice at all. It can create the illusion of improvement and yet be a prelude to disaster.
Check yourself out . . . then shun the Mirror
Practice is one of those words that we never bother to define, because each of us already “knows” what it means.
Certainly your professor thinks you know what it means, since he urges you to “practice” your presentation prior to its delivery.
But what does it mean to “practice?” Doesn’t everyone know how to practice?
How do you practice?
Have you ever truly thought about it? Have you ever thought about what, exactly, you are trying to accomplish with your practice? Do you make the mistake of that old cliché and “practice in the mirror?”
Don’t practice in the mirror. That’s dumb.
You won’t be looking at yourself as you give your talk, so don’t practice that way.
I say it again – that’s dumb.
The only reason to look in a mirror is to ensure that your gestures and expressions display exactly as you think they do when you employ them. Other than that, stay away from the mirror.
Practice – the right practice, good practice, proper rehearsal – is the key to so much of your presentation’s success. And your ultimate triumph.
The Russians have a saying much akin to one of ours. We say “practice makes perfect.” The Russians say “Povtoreniye mat’ ucheniya.”
It means “Repetition is the mother of learning.”
And it’s great advice.
Presentation Practice Leads to Victory
The armed forces are experts at practice. Short of actual war, this is all the military does – practice for its mission in the most realistic conditions that can be devised.
And in doing so, the military arms our warriors with the confidence and skill necessary to accomplish the actual missions assigned to it.
Likewise, we must practice in the most realistic conditions that we can devise for ourselves, and in doing so we reduce our apprehension and uncertainty.
We gain confidence.
The nerves that go with public speaking are like the nerves a soldier feels as he walks through a minefield – he fears a single misstep will trigger an explosion.
But once the minefield is traversed a single time, the path is clear. With a clear and predictable path, the fear evaporates.
The danger is avoided.
Confidence replaces fear.
Presentation Practice Eliminates Fear
Likewise, once you have practiced your talk, your fear dissipates. Once you have practiced it exactly like you will deliver it, straight to completion without pause, then you will have reduced the unknown to manageable proportions.
The gigantic phantasmagoria is shrunk.
Your way through the minefield is clear. And the fear evaporates.
Does this mean that you won’t have butterflies before a talk? Or that you won’t be nervous? Of course not. We all do.
Before every game, professional football players are keyed up, emotional, nervous. But once the game begins and they take the first “hit,” they ramp-up confidence.
Likewise, a bit of nervousness is good for you. It ensures your focus. But it’s good nervousness, borne of anticipation.
It is not the same as fear.
And so we see that the key to confidence is knowledge and preparation.
We lack confidence when we are unsure. With every practice, we gain confidence. And all the while we rehearse diligently, remember this dictum . . .
Sear This into Your Mind
Practice exactly the way you deliver your presentation.
I mean this literally.
Stage your practices, both individually and as a group, as close to the real thing as you can. Make it as realistic as you can. If you can, practice in the room where you will deliver your show.
You want as much pressure as possible.
One of the most prevalent and serious practice mistakes is to restart your presentation again and again when you make a mistake. Do not start over when you make a mistake . . .
When you stumble, practice recovering from your error.
This should be common sense. You must practice how you respond to making an error. How you will fight through and recover from an error. Then, if you stumble in your presentation, you will have the confidence and prior experience to weather the minor glitch because you will have faced it before.
Think of it this way. Does a football team practice one way all week, and then employ a completely different game-plan on game-day?
Of course not.
And neither should you.
For more on Business Presentation Practice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.