• James Walton

The Crucial Habit All Great Presenters Share

The crucial habit great speakers share in common is preparation. Up to this point in your presentation journey, you've asked the two questions that create clarity for your audience, and you've mastered your material by writing a word-for-word manuscript of what you're going to say. Well done. But we're not done yet. The act of getting the words out of your head and onto the paper is a crucial prerequisite; now we need to focus on getting the words from the paper and back into your mouth.  (You might wonder if it isn't easier just to move the words from your head to your mouth in the first place. It is easier, but I'm not convinced it's better. Clarity is the hallmark of a strong presentation, and writing your way to clarity is the best I know to get there.) The single most effective way to prepare for a presentation is to rehearse it out loud, standing up, and preferably in the room where it will be delivered. The number of times to rehearse varies with the scope of the presentation, but a minimum of two full run-throughs is my recommendation.  The reason this is so important is simple: meaningful connection with your audience is built upon the foundation of total mastery of your material.  Here's a few tactical tips to help you rehearse more effectively:

  • Enlarge the font to size of your manuscript to 14 or 18 or whatever is easy for you to read at a distance. You're not there to "read" your presentation, but if you must glance down to remind you of your place, you'll be grateful to see the text clearly.

  • Highlight the text that represents key transitions, or queues to move to the next visual. These are the beats you need to hit to stay on track. Make them obvious to you from the page. 

  • Record your rehearsals on your smartphone. Rewatch them at least twice - once on mute to focus on your body language, and another time to listen for verbal tics like "um" "like" "uh" etc. Note where in the presentation you see an increase in verbal tics, it's often a sign to revisit that part specifically to smooth out your message. 

  • Rehearse, rewrite, rehearse, rewrite, rehearse... Speaking your presentation out loud allows you to hear where your wording needs help. Keep a pencil nearby to edit your manuscript to prioritize clarity for a listening audience.

If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. A 30-minute speech is roughly 3,000 words of written text, and it might require 15 hours to research and write, and another 5 to 10 hours to rehearse. Your mileage may vary, but I have found a direct correlation with my commitment to preparation and the subsequent impact on the audience. If you aspire to master your material for your next presentation, rehearse it in full ahead of time, at least twice, out loud and without notes. June is Presentation Month at Trellis Group, and this is one of 8 short articles we'll publish this month. Each aims to make you a more effective communicator. If a friend or colleague could benefit, please send them this link to subscribe

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