Making Good Speakers Great

Rehearsal Leverage

If you were walking in Sherwood Park, Toronto, the morning of September 29th, you might have noticed a tall, well-dressed businessman striding along the off-leash dog trail, speaking intently into his cell phone. That was probably me — except there was no one on the other end of the call. Yes, I was talking to myself. But there was method to my madness. Here’s what I mean.

I’m a marketing strategy expert who gives a lot of presentations. I used to think that rehearsing simply involved reading my comments over and over until I’d practically memorized them. I never saw the need to actually “say” the speech out loud because I thought I’d get bored with the material and lose interest – rather like over-studying for an exam.

But then I had no idea how long the speech would run, until I was actually delivering it. So I’d end up rushing through key information, trying to make up for lost time. When I hurried through content, the audience tended to discount its value and simply waited for the words,” I’d like to conclude by saying …”

Reading through a speech or reviewing your notes, versus actually delivering it out loud, is like trying to learn a sport by watching instructional videos or reading magazines. You have to do it. You need to hold the equipment in your hands, to feel it in the context of real competition.

When you rehearse out loud, you can tell how you’ll fare well before you get onstage. Is your voice reedy and digging out from the back of your throat? Or is it emanating from deeper in your torso for fuller effect? It’s hard to be sure unless you can really “feel” your speech – physically as well as psychologically.

So, I tried rehearsing my presentations instead of reading them. I timed them while standing in front of a mirror or alone in my office, but it still didn’t work. I didn’t feel close to the material because I was literally talking to myself, surrounded by unresponsive, inanimate objects as my audience.

One day, while walking our dog, Luna, I decided to run through the opening of the speech I was giving the next morning. Luna was as attentive as she could be, although the content clearly didn’t mesmerize her. And managing her wrestling matches with other dogs as we walked soon proved too distracting. Then, my big rehearsal tip came to me.

If I could find a way of rehearsing my speech out loud amidst distractions such as dogs, traffic noise and other people walking by me, I could easily stay focused doing a presentation to a large room full of financial advisors.

Early the next morning (while Luna slept), I set out for a walk in the park. I kept my cell phone to my ear, so passersby would think I was in conversation instead of muttering to myself. Starting from the beginning, I delivered my presentation aloud. About 20 minutes into my mobile rehearsal, a young Rottweiler bounded towards me. Talk about a potential distraction! Amazingly, I was able to keep walking – and practicing – without losing my concentration.

It worked. I practiced my entire presentation aloud, while navigating people, pets and intersections, and found a comfortable groove. I also timed and recorded my speech and identified gaps I needed to fill when I went “live” later that morning.

The packed conference room seemed serene and homey compared to the distractions I’d encountered in the park, during my “walking rehearsal.” I felt calm and focused, confident that my new rehearsal method would ensure the presentation’s success. My voice was strong and resonant. I was able to fully engage my audience, and thanks to my ability to remember my key points, I did full justice to the content. I will confidently take advantage of opportunities to deliver more challenging presentations in the future.

Evan Thompson has successfully provided marketing communications and business development/presentation skills coaching to professionals representing the financial services, legal, retail, pharmaceutical, information technology and not-for-profit industries for nearly three decades. Learn more about Evan and his work at 

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