American football great Vince Lombardi said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” This quote holds true for everything from sports to giving professional presentations. Use these tips to help you effectively practice for your next presentation:
- Review your main points: When you’re familiar with the content and organization of your main points, you will be less likely to get lost during your presentation. One way you can visually break up your presentation is by writing each point on a separate note card. Study them until you know each point like the back of your hand. It’ll be easier to stay focused while presenting if you are familiar with the main idea of your message.
- Focus on chunks: One way to avoid getting overwhelmed by information is to break your presentation into manageable chunks or segments. You don’t have to take on the whole presentation all at once. Separate the information into natural sections, then practice each section individually several times. Once you’ve rehearsed each segment, work on transitions from one idea to the next. This will help you stay on track and keep your presentation engaging.
- Time yourself: It’s important to know how much time you have to deliver your message. When you run through your presentation, time yourself from start to finish. Use a stopwatch so that you can evaluate each chunk of your presentation. When you do so, you will be able to see which segments of your presentation need more content or need to be shortened.
- Video recording: Record yourself on video using your smartphone or a video camera. Here are a few things to pay attention to when reviewing the video footage:
- Body language: Stand up straight and pull your shoulders back. Posture is important, so be aware of your body language throughout your presentation. Do you have your hands in your pockets? If so, try keeping your hands free. Practice being confident—confidence breeds more confidence.
- Pace and pattern: Are you speaking too slowly or quickly? Take time to make adjustments to the speed of your delivery. A strategy that many find helpful is to create a presentation schedule so you can manage your time well. Your schedule might look something like this if you have 15 minutes to present at a business event:
- 1:00 p.m.: Introduction of the big idea
- 1:02 p.m.: Personal story
- 1:05 p.m.: Data analysis
- 1:09 p.m.: Closing
- 1:10 p.m.: Begin Q&A
- 1:15 p.m.: End Q&A
- Focus: The video you recorded can show you at what points you lose focus or get distracted. It’ll help you recognize what parts of your presentation you need to spend time polishing. Spend extra time rehearsing those segments until they flow smoothly with the rest of your presentation.
- Mix it up: Now that you are more comfortable with the pace, pattern, and timing of your presentation, it’s time to add some character to your delivery. Don’t wait until you’re standing on the stage to try something new. While you’re practicing, experiment with pauses and changes in tone when transitioning between parts of your presentation or telling a story.
- Practice in front of people: A basketball team can run through offensive plays all day, but they will never improve if they never practice with active defenders on the court. Practice your presentation in front of a small group of people who can give you feedback. Present with your slides, and do everything you can to replicate where you’ll be presenting. This will give you a better idea of how people will react to everything you’ve prepared—from your slides to your body language. Let the people you are rehearsing in front of know what your goals are so they can give you better feedback on your performance.
- Ask for feedback: Be humble and open to what others have to say about your presentation. Ask for actionable feedback that can give you a clear idea of what areas you can improve. An example of actionable feedback could be, “You seem to be rushing during the intro of your presentation. To slow down, I would pause for a moment when you transition to the next slide. It’ll help you feel controlled and keep your audience’s attention.” Consider all of the reactions and comments you received, then find ways to implement them in your presentation.
If you put in the preparation and practice ahead of time, you’ll get the results you deserve. Lombardi said it best: “There is only one way to succeed in anything and that is to give it everything.” Do your best in your preparation and you’ll be able to deliver an effective and memorable presentation.