Several years ago I was invited by the mathematics department of a local university to speak on the topic of presentation. The seminar was to be given on a Friday evening, and I finished preparing my content the Sunday before, so I had five days to rehearse. Every day I made time to run through the material trying to absorb it and really make it a part of me.
On Wednesday morning something happened that taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I was walking down Elmer Street on my way to an appointment. While I walked I was using the time to run through the presentation in my head. Naturally I didn’t want passing drivers to think I was talking to myself.
In the midst of rehearsing I suddenly realized the entire middle section of my speech was redundant and needed to be cut. This wasn’t some minor tweak. This called for a major re-write. Fortunately, I had the time to make the revisions and incorporate the changes into my practice. Friday evening rolled around, I gave the seminar, and it was well received.
I often wonder what would have happened had I not allowed for that amount of time to rehearse. Let’s just say that I had waited until Thursday night to write the presentation. I would never have discovered that flaw in my content. It didn’t show up on the first, second, or even the third run through. This was the third day of rehearsal.
You could compare the rehearsal process to the development of a new car. The first prototype is never perfect. There are always improvements to be made, some of them major, but you’ll never find them until you take it out for a spin. You probably require several test drives before you are ready to go public.
I realize rehearsal isn’t sexy. There are lots of things you’d rather be doing, but rehearsal will make the difference between a good performance and a great performance. You can discover potential in your content that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. You might discover a problem with your material that could undermine the success of your presentation like I did.
Some things about public speaking are hard, but rehearsal isn’t hard, and the ultimate payoff is way out of proportion and effort required. So get your notes, get on your feet, get to a mirror and get started. Every run through will make your speech better, so what are you waiting for?