Posts tagged Slides Graphics & Images
10 Ways to Practice Your Presentation Like a Pro

If you want to be truly prepared to deliver your speech, you need to do more than simply run through your notecards or  Powerpoint slides five or six times.  More times will help, but it still won’t get you there. To nail your speech, you need to seriously challenge yourself while you practice. Here’s how.

A Couple of Important Notes Before We Start:  

London Breed speaking at Day Without a Woman San Francisco

London Breed speaking at Day Without a Woman San Francisco

These suggestions will work great if you’re planning to speak from limited bullet points, from short cues taken from slides, or completely from memory.  On the other hand, if you’re planning to read your entire presentation word for word off of notecards or slides, I suggest you read this post and get back to me.

Also, I’m assuming that you’ve already made sure your content is clear and organized well.  You want to do as much of that work as possible beforeyou start practicing

Here we go then!   Start with the first suggestion, move on to the second, and work your way down the list.

1. Say the whole thing in front of the mirror.

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The mirror is almost as unforgiving as the camera, and acts as a kind of editor, so it’s good to practice this way at the beginning.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve carefully prepared a section of a story or speech and when I stand in front of the mirror and deliver it, all I can say to myself is, “What were you THINKING?!”  

It’s like the mirror calls us out.  Any false sentiment or fakey gesture and the mirror shouts “STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!  NOT ON MY WATCH!” Please note - this is necessary and good work, and will help you edit your speech. If it looks, feels or sounds awkward to you, it’s probably gonna seem like that to your audience as well.  Tweak or cut until it feels good. More than once I’ve had to rework something between 5 and 10 times before I felt comfortable delivering it. But that reworking makes all the difference when you’re on stage, because it eliminates the second guessing that happens when something feels off.

I know that sometimes in this process you’re going to have that sinking “back to the drawing board” feeling.   Just be glad that the mirror is essentially telling you here, in the privacy of your own home, that you’ve got spinach in your teeth, vs. letting you walk out on stage like that.  

Now that you’ve gotten any glaring content problems out of the way, you’re ready to move on to #2.

2.  Deliver your speech in a “larger than life” style. 

By “larger than life”, I mean, make it BIG.  Talk too loud. Vary your volume from high to low and back again.  Exaggerate your pronunciation. Gesture hugely and ridiculously. Don’t stand in one place - take up a lot of space on the stage, or in your bathroom - wherever it is  you’re practicing. Pause dramatically and stare at the audience inappropriately. 

Here’s what’s going to happen.  First, it will help you relax, because it’s so silly.  You’re gonna laugh at yourself. If you didn’t laugh, go back, stand in front of a mirror, and do it bigger.  Don’t stop until you crack yourself up. Second, important little light bulbs will go on. You’ll discover that you actually like saying just that one phrase in an almost “over the top” way.  Or maybe you realize just how effective bringing the volume way down can be. You might notice that moving more makes you feel less nervous. Third, you’ll find that your range of expression is much broader than what you’ve likely experienced, and now you can pull from that range, adapting and incorporating certain elements into your speech.

3. Practice your speech while doing another task.

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Washing the dishes is my preferred task of choice.  In the shower is a little easier. (If you have to wrap a little note card in plastic wrap and set in in the shower caddy, go for it.)  Walking somewhere also works well. The point is, you’re trying to get distracted. Because guess what? When you stand up to speak, you’re gonna be distracted.  (In fact, I wrote a whole blog post about dealing with distractions which you can read here.) And you want to have trained yourself to power through those distractions.  

In the beginning this is going to be hard.  But keep working at it, and after awhile you’ll notice that you’re able to simply tune out everything except your presentation.  (Just don’t, you know, stab yourself with a fork or forget to wash your armpits.)

4. Recite your talk as though something went awry.

Imagine that everything started out just fine, and then 4 minutes in, your outline spontaneously combusts and you don’t have another copy.  The show must go on - what’re you gonna do? Or imagine that at slide #13 the computer crashes and you can’t just stand there waiting for the tech ambulance to come.  Now what?

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Insert these kind of worst case scenarios at various points in your speech and figure out how you would recover.  It might mean you need to memorize your outline so you can continue to the next point. Or that you have a story prepared to make up for the lack of slides.  There’s no one answer here, obviously. The point is, you’ll be really glad that you thought through these kinds of scenarios BEFORE they happened. And so will your audience.

5.  Give your speech as fast as you can.

Saying your speech as fast as you can is simply a way to get the content firmly rooted in your brain.  Repeat this exercise until you can do the whole thing at top speed. It’s very effective at showing you what areas you need to be more familiar with.  It’s kind of fun, too.

Needless to say, you don’t ever want to actually deliver it this way.   Ever.

6.  Start your speech at random points and move forward.

Don’t always start from the beginning - that’s too easy, lol.  Start at a sub-point or example and go from there. Do it again starting from somewhere else.  And again. This is simply another way of becoming so familiar with your content that you don’t need the usual order to help you.

If you’re using a PowerPoint type program, this is also a great opportunity to learn how to jump quickly to different points in your slide deck.

7.  Begin, stop, do something else, and start again.

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This method is a little like #6, but instead of jumping around, you start at the beginning and take pauses along the way. So for example, if you’re at work, start your speech, reply to an email, resume for a couple of minutes, make a quick phone call, resume again and repeat until you finish your speech.   If you’re at home, start, throw out the trash, resume for a few minutes, do a few yoga poses or play with your dog, and continue. Task switching is a different kind of distraction that presents a great challenge.

8.  Practice while listening to the radio and doing something else.

For example, turn on the radio, start cooking dinner and get reciting.  If you can move through your presentation with grace and ease while all of this is going on, good job, ‘cause you’re seriously rockin’ it. I’ve found that favorite songs make this already hard task even harder, ‘cause who doesn’t want to sing along?

9.  Film yourself giving your presentation.

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I’ve saved this technique for the end for two reasons.  First, most people dread being filmed, but by now, you should be feeling much, much more confident about your material.  Second, since (hopefully) you’re no longer focused on what you’re going to say, you can focus on how you’ll say it.  Think about being present in your body, connecting with your (imagined) audience, and delivering your talk in a way that feels authentic and powerful.  (And yes, that’s a whole other post….)
Now watch the video.  If wine has to be involved at this point, I won’t judge you.  After you’ve gotten over the initial shock, make a list of what you consider glaring problems.  Now go back through and circle the ones you have control over. Think about possible solutions. Try them out, make adjustments, and record yourself again.  Repeat a few times and you’ll see improvement, I promise.

You can also hire a speech coach to help you evaluate yourself if you find this step too difficult.  Having this recording of yourself is an excellent place to start.

10.  Stage a dress rehearsal.

Ask a few trusted friends and/or family members to watch you give your presentation.  There’s nothing like a real audience to light your fire or scare the living daylights out of you, depending on how much you enjoy public speaking.  Either way, you want to get used to that feeling of people staring at you. And laughing at your jokes. And smiling. And clapping. 

Woman in White Blouse.jpg

And make this a full dress rehearsal, including shoes and jewelry, because what you wear can actually make a huge difference.  While it’s important to look professional (you’ll want to find out in advance what level of formality is appropriate for the occasion), it’s equally important to FEEL GOOD in what you’re wearing.  Feeling happy about what you’re wearing leads to more confidence onstage. So don’t leave this decision to the last minute.

If you’ve worked your way through all of these steps, congratulations!  Be proud of yourself, because this kind of serious, intense practice will make a huge difference in your final presentation. Go here to see what it looks like when you’ve practiced like a pro.

If you need some more help and you want to start practicing with a pro, go here. If you’ve already filmed yourself and you’d like some feedback, go here. And if you know of another public speaker who could use a little practice (lol), hit one of the share buttons.


Top 10 Reasons You Need a Speech Coach
Me, Nancy Hardcastle, hosting an open mic.

Me, Nancy Hardcastle, hosting an open mic.

You have passion, you have expertise and you have experience - why whould you hire a speech coach?  I’ve got ten wonderful reasons for you, but they all boil down to this - if you hope to be the kind of speaker that makes your audience want to cry and cheer and congratulate you all at the same time, you can!  It’s just going to be nearly impossible to do it by yourself. To find out why, let the countdown begin....


10.  Practicing in front of your best friend (or significant other, grandmother, etc.) will only get you so far.

Generally speaking, practicing in front of anybody is helpful, but if you’re expecting your friends or family to be able to give you the constructive criticism that you need and help you fix the problems they pointed out, that’s not realistic.  It’s kind of like expecting your gardener to be able to look at your hair, give you style feedback, and also trim it up real quick.  Besides that, those loved ones of yours are probably gonna go easy on you because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

9. While watching yourself on video is both brave and excruciating, it won’t help you know if you’re explaining your topic clearly.

You know how when you get a “For Dummies” book, you feel like an even dumber dummy because you can’t understand it?  The problem is that these writers are so immersed in their field that they can’t imagine what starting from zero really looks like.  In the same way, it’s likely that you’re so familiar with your material that you don’t realize all the assumptions you’re making about what your audience does and doesn’t know.  In their book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath call this the “Curse of Knowledge.” They write:

Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listerners’ state of mind.

To overcome this “curse” and to make sure you’re making yourself understood, you need someone else to give you feedback. (And if you’re serious about creating radical change, I highly recommend this book.)

You have passion, you have expertise and you have experience - why should you hire a speech coach? I’ve got ten wonderful reasons for you, but they all boil down to this - if you hope to be the kind of speaker that makes your audience want to cry and cheer and congratulate you all at the same time, you can. It’s just going to be nearly impossible to do it by yourself. Keep reading to find out why. #Powerpoint #keynote #speechcoach #ipresentation

8. Even if you’re a “natural” on stage, everyone needs input on delivery.  

There’s a popular misconception that speech coaches want to turn you into something that you’re not, including forcing you to use weird, awkward gestures that make people embarrassed for you.  That’s not the kind of delivery input I mean.

I’m talking about working on the deliberate use of elements such as pauses, eye contact and body language to strengthen the overall impact of your presentation.  You’ll still be 100% “you” - you’ll just be the enhanced version best suited for public speaking.


7.  You need targeted practice.  

A  good coach will make you practice in ways that not only challenge you, but prepare you for all manner of catastrophes, including but certainly not limited to crashed computers, lost files, broken glasses and wardrobe malfunctions.  You’ll prepare for normal situations as well, because sometimes things actually do go as planned.

6.  Moving from “great idea” to “great speech” can be very challenging if you don’t have extensive experience as a speaker and/or writer.  

Knowing how to develop your ideas in a way that doesn’t bore everyone to tears is a learned skill.  So is crafting a compelling story that will both engage and move your audience toward the desired outcome.  You need these skills and more to create powerful content.


5.  You probably forgot about your audience.

It’s easy to forget that you aren’t the most important element of your presentation - the audience is.  Think about it - without them, where would you be? So before you ever step on stage, you’ll need to make sure you’re considering your audience and the specifics of your presentation that are going to speak to them as individuals (no pun intended).

4.  Persuading an audience requires a strategy.


This strategy will include several tactics.  You can probably find some good suggestions on how to be persuasive, and perhaps even come up with a decent strategy on your own.  But if this is an important talk and the stakes are high, do you really want to run the risk of not being as persuasive as you could be?  I mean, I like to bake, but if one of my kids decides to get married, we’ll be hiring a professional. Just sayin’.

3.  It’s likely that you haven’t organized your speech in the most effective way possible.

If you’re starting by introducing yourself and explaining what you and/or your organization does, I rest my case.  That’s not a good way to start. Yes, that introduction and explanation belongs somewhere...just not in your opening remarks.  Good organization helps your audience focus on the material because you 1) make it clear from the beginning where you’re taking them 2) help them navigate along the way  3) demonstrate from the get-go that it’s gonna to be a helluva ride.

2.  Your slides could be better.

Building a PowerPoint slide deck (or Prezi, Keynote, etc.) includes so many important components that I’ve written a  30+ page slide guide! Fortunately, if you’ve been working hard on deleting unnecessary slides, editing down long bullet pointed lists and finding compelling images, you’re likely well ahead of the game.  

Nevertheless, you need an objective eye to tell you what’s confusing, redundant, and (hopefully not, but quite possibly) just plain ugly.  It's like hiring an editor.  No writer worth their salt would consider putting something in print without having an editor look over it first.

And finally....


1.  You’re boring.

Okay, okay, you’re probably not boring the whole time.  But I would bet that at least part of your presentation is boring.  Why? Because most talks are. And most speakers do what everyone else does.  Unfortunately, passion, expertise and experience are not enough to overcome this problem.  You’ve got to do something different!

Lucky for you, there’s hope.

Obviously, you can hire me. I’d love nothing more than to help you blow your audience out of the water with an amazing presentation.  It’s the best part of my job. And if you can’t hire me because, I don’t know, you don’t have an internet connection, you can start by addressing the ten issues above, and you’ll be well on your way.

And just one more thing...if you’re afraid of harsh criticism, I get it.  I hate mean. That’s why I work extra hard at helping you relax and find your groove.  In fact, it’s one of my specialties.

I will definitely point out where you need to improve, and show you how.  But I’ll also tell you all the things you’re doing well, and I’ll encourage you along the way.  

So go here, and let’s get started!  Your audience will thank you for it.