The Power of Rehearsal

“Everyone loves to win – but how many love to train?” Mark Spitz – 1972 Olympic Gold Medallist Swimmer When I was little, I wanted to be a magician. I loved the idea of entertaining people with illusions and mysteries. I read books and learned tricks and even put on shows for my childhood friends. The magic fraternity has a number of rules. The most important one is that you must never reveal the secret of a trick (so don’t ask me!) But one of the rules that I learned that has been useful in my real profession as a speaker and trainer of speakers is that you must practise and practise – and then practise some more. And only when you are thoroughly rehearsed do you perform the trick in public. Practice and rehearsal also make a huge improvement to the delivery of presentations and speeches. I work with speakers all the time and I get to see the difference between those who practise and those who don’t. And that difference is stark. Here’s what happens to an unrehearsed speaker:
  • They “um” and “ah”
  • They can’t remember what comes next
  • They get sidetracked and waffle
  • They go over time or run out of time
  • They read their presentation and put the audience to sleep
  • They lack confidence, control and credibility.
This list of problems is bad enough. But the real problem is that your audience doesn’t say to themselves “this speaker hasn’t rehearsed” – no, they say to themselves “this person and their company, product and service are incompetent.” They don’t make allowances – and why should they? Take on board that you have not finished preparing when your notes are written and your PowerPoint is on a disc. You need to practise your talk out loud from beginning to end. And the more often you rehearse it the better.
  • Learn your opening – know your first line in your sleep so that “starters nerves” won’t stop you from remembering or delivering your opening words with energy and confidence
  • Know your closing – for maximum impact you want to be able to deliver it directly to the audience without any notes and without PowerPoint
  • Practise with any props and visual aids – especially PowerPoint. Get the timing of your slides right and be thoroughly familiar with their content.
I learned the discipline and the benefits of rehearsal from my amateur magician days. And it is a discipline because it is time consuming and repetitive and you often don’t feel as if it’s really contributing to your performance. But I can guarantee that it does. The popular Polish pianist and composer Ignace Paderewski was once asked to explain why, after so many years, he still practiced every day. His response? “If I miss one day’s practice I notice it. If I miss two days, the critics notice it. If I miss three days, the audience notices.”

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