For the past couple of weeks, I have been in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico where I had the great privilege to direct my dear friend, Eli Hans, in his mostly one-man musical called, Out Of the Blue. It is a beautiful show and he worked tirelessly to get his story written, directed, and produced in the hopes that it would resonate with his audience and change lives.
I feel confident that his story has already done this and will continue to do so.
Something that often came up in our conversations is the amount of time and effort it takes to practice this 90 min. story and how the work that goes into producing something, whether that be a performance, presentation, or training is a tremendous amount and this is what the audience does not get to see and I would imagine, sometimes, does not quite comprehend. So this got me thinking about how much practice, I feel, should go into a presentation and why practice is so important.
Look, there are a lot of differing opinions out there about how much you should practice so I have done you a favor by distilling it down to what I feel is a good amount of time along with some helpful resources for those who want something more:
When you google, “how much practice should I do for a presentation?” there is a lot of emphasis on practice and the number of slides you have. I am going to be a rebel here and say, “Can we please drop the slides for a second!?”
Here is why. Shit happens and if you don’t know your material well enough to stand on its own, then you haven’t practiced enough. You should be in a place where if your tech failed you and the lights went out, you would be able to adapt and pivot effortlessly. Why do I say this? Because ultimately, it is about the story, and if you know it well and can tell your story with confidence, all of the other elements are just bonuses. And yes, there are a lot of different ways that your audience is going to retain material, so the visuals are helpful for this. I, however, still feel that regardless if you are sharing DATA or a new product, you are still telling a story and it is your responsibility to inspire and educate your audience. If you are not well-rehearsed, it will be difficult to do this.
Ok, back to the slides. My first question for you is, “Are all of your slides necessary?” Do they really support your message and are they simply done with limited text? Once you have solved this, then a common rule of thumb is that each slide should be practiced at least 10 times. Now let’s say you have 10 key points you want to share in your presentation and you’re wondering how in the heck you would be able to do this without the visual crutch of your slides.
So I still haven’t really answered the question, of how much time do I feel you should set aside for practice. And here is my short answer — probably more than you have been giving yourself. So, I am leaving you with this suggestion as a place to start. *Please note: I do understand that you may be asked to present at a moment’s notice, so please make adjustments where you can.
For your next presentation here is my solution for preparedness:
Prep — Before you start practicing the story, structure, and slides are all complete.
Practice — At least 5 days before your presentation. Once a day, out loud and in repetition with breaks. i.e. take a break for 5/15 mins. Every 45 mins to 1hr.
Perform — Find an audience. Whether that be your coach, family, or friends make sure you have an opportunity to share your presentation with others before the “performance” day.
It is a much different experience to have an audience. Not only do you learn where you can make adjustments to your presentation, but it is also a different negotiation of energy when you are being seen. This is also a great time to test your tech for virtual presentations. If you are in person, this is a great time to also check tech and to walk the space. My suggestion here is to always ask for what you need. Here is a link to your presentation checklist to help with this.
I could seriously talk about this subject all day long because, like most things in life, there is not a one size fits all approach to this subject. My hope is that I have at least inspired you to step up your game and to question whether or not you are truly giving your presentations and career the attention it needs.
When we are invited to present, we are not just being invited to share content, we are invited to be seen. Whether you like it or not, often, these are sometimes the only opportunities where the decision-makers get to know you and see you in action. So make it count.
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Please feel free to connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you are looking for support as a presenter and public speaker. Happy to help!