Everyone knows the age-old mantra that “Practice makes perfect” but as a high school tennis coach, I believe this statement is not always the most accurate. Instead I think a more realistic statement is “Practice makes permanent.” The reality is you can practice over and over again but if you are not practicing the right way you can end up emphasizing bad habits and creating difficult patterns to break.
Don’t get me wrong practice is important, in Malcom Gladwell in his book outliers says that in order to become an expert you must do something 10,000 times. Practicing a presentation is one of the most important steps in preparing for the stage. But just practicing once in front of mirror is not enough, you need repetition and coaching to guarantee a home run on the big day. Here are 3-time tested steps to guarantee you are prepared when you step in front of your audience.
Read your manuscript.
The first step in practicing for your presentation starts by taking time to read through your manuscript. This may seem like a simple step, but it is extremely important. Taking time to read your manuscript out loud allows you to catch any awkward sections of your content that seemed to flow in your head but now seem clunky when spoken out loud. Use this final read through as a chance to rearrange where needed, clarify where confused, and cut when justified.
Deliver to yourself.
As uncomfortable as this step can sometimes be, it is important to push past that and just try it. Delivering content in front of a mirror, or video is a valuable way to see the visual distractions that you may be at risk for creating with your body. Often times we become accustomed to the distracting movements we make with our body. Much like the constant drone of a plane eventually fades to the background, the constant view of our body language eventually just becomes normal to us. This step will help you identify the nervous ticks you have which will raise your level of awareness on presentation day.
Practice in front of a coach.
Coaches help us to see the things we often miss ourselves. In this step you have the opportunity to receive valuable feedback prior to your audience that you might not otherwise get. This feedback can help you to modify your presentation before it ever goes on display. Think of this as the final edit before a book goes to publish. As presenters we must be open to outside feedback if we want to continue to grow. The reality is that many times we become so close to our presentations that we need any objective set of eyes to let us know where things are missing the mark. It is important to note that you don’t want to let just anyone be your coach. Make sure you find someone you trust to give good feedback not unneeded critique.
I love what coach Bobby Knight says about practice, he said “Everyone has the will to win, it is the will to prepare to win that matters.” So, take the time to practice well. Don’t think that your content will carry itself and that you are too busy to put in the practice time. Even the most elite athletes in the world still put in hours of training to perfect the fundamentals. The same is true in your presentation skills, it may be a little uncomfortable, and require extra time, but practice is always worth it.
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