Guarantee Success with Great Speech Rehearsal Techniques
February 10, 2024
Speech rehearsal top tips: Rehearse your presentation or speech properly and you’ll be amazed by the results.
“Some people rehearse to a point where they’re robotic, and they sound like they have memorized their presentation and didn’t take it to the next level. Going from sounding memorized and canned to sounding natural is a lot of work”.– Nancy Duarte, presentation guru
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.- Leo Tolstoy
Presentation Rehearsal Case Study
A few years ago a large pharmaceutical company asked us to help rehearse the speeches for their senior management event. Recent the company had restructured, recruited new people and had grown internationally. So this was an important event: flying in 250 people from around the world to give speeches and presentations to their colleagues.
The company thought they needed a bit of help with their speech rehearsals. They wanted a coach to come to Jordan the day before the event and rehearse with each person to perfect how they ‘presented.’
Six weeks before the event, they, and we, realised a bit of last-minute speech rehearsal was not enough. The many speeches and presentations were all over the place. Each has a different style, were of variable quality, and their effectiveness was limited.
So we changed the rehearsal plan.
In the weeks before the event, we coached everyone individually via Zoom. We helped each person work out exactly what they wanted to say and how best to get those points across. We showed them storytelling techniques to use in their speeches and we showed them what best practice looked like. Most importantly, we made sure each person looked and sounded engaging and natural when they presented.
Finally, during the speech rehearsals, in the two days before the event, we helped each person fine tune their speeches, polish how they delivered and made sure the same messages resonated through all the speeches.
The event was a huge success.
At Benjamin Ball Associates, we’ve been helping businesses rehearse presentations and speeches for over 15 years. Our clients range from some of the largest firms to individuals who need expert help so they make an impact on stage and in their career.
Based on our experience coaching and supporting speech rehearsals, we’ve outlined expert advice from our trainers on how to rehearse your next speech or presentation for success.
The good news is that great speech rehearsal techniques are a learned skill. In fact, it’s a core leadership skill that every manager, leader and executive should learn.
How to: Winning Speech Rehearsal Skills
Read more about each of these speech rehearsal techniques below:
1. Do you have a process for rehearsing your speech?
Summary: Rehearsing is a process, not a project. Develop a system that works for you so you continually improve.
What typically goes wrong with presentation rehearsals?
Many people put off rehearsing their presentation. Then, at the last minute they run through what they have prepared to check that they have remembered the important bits. Strangely, many feel more comfortable winging it in front of strangers rather than practising in front of friends or even watching themselves on video.
Why does this matter? The better your rehearsal, the better your final result will be. Rehearsing is about learning and improving, not just memorising and running through.
What to do instead
Great speech rehearsals involves editing, so put aside serious time. This is particularly important if you want to improve. Use a live audience (even it’s you recording and watching yourself). The best speakers put three main rehearsal times in their diary, for the three stages of preparation:
- The first to make major changes and edits
- The second to fine tune content and structure
- the third to polish delivery and impact.
As you rehearse your speech, ask these questions:
- Do you make the right impact from the very start?
- What could you cut out?
- Is the audience the centre of attention?
- Have you made it easy enough for the audience?
- How will you make your audience feel?
And then, in more detail:
- Have you enough pauses and the right pacing?
- Is your eye contact, body language etc good enough?
- Is your end strong enough?
- Have you practised tough questions?
“If you’re not comfortable with public speaking – and nobody starts out comfortable; you have to learn how to be comfortable – practice. I cannot overstate the importance of practising. Get some close friends or family members to help evaluate you, or somebody at work that you trust.”-Hillary Clinton
Next Steps to a Perfect Speech Rehearsal Process
- Start practising early
- Find a friend, colleague or expert to help you
- Invest time in practice. Work on the three stages: major edits, polishing, performance
- Learn from every improvement you make
- Only finish when you know you can’t improve more.
2. Have you perfected the start and end of your speech?
Summary: Spend most time rehearsing the start and end of your speech. A great start and strong end will determine how brilliantly your talk succeeds.
What typically goes wrong?
Some people think that rehearsing a presentation is the same as running through a presentation. With a 20 minute talk, weak speakers do one run-through with equal weight on all parts of the talk.
Why does this matter? If you have a bad start to your speech, your audience will be less receptive to what you say next.
If the end of your presentation is bad, your closing words will fall flat and people will go away feeling dissatisfied.
How to rehearse your speech instead
When you rehearse, get your start and end right first. This will force you to improve how you connect with your audience, polish your key messages and make sure you have your audience where you want them. Until these are right, other time spent rehearsing is wasted.
“All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Speech Rehearsal Next Steps for the Start and End of Your Speech
- Prioritise rehearsing your start and your end
- Be ruthless in changing, fixing, tweaking until these two parts work well
- Only work on the rest of your presentation when the start and the end are just right.
3. Do you need to overcome public speaking nerves?
Summary: Think like a teacher rather than a ‘presenter’ to calm nerves and help your audience.
What typically goes wrong
Presentations are typically one-way affairs. One person speaks, many people listen. Information is transmitted and potentially absorbed. The presenter feels nervous because they are being judged and the audience are bored with the monologue. It feels like being at school or university.
Why does this matter? If you look or sound nervous you will be less effective.
How to rehearse effectively instead
Approach your presentation with the mindset of a teacher. It’s your job to help your audience better understand and remember what you say. You need to teach them rather then tell them.
You achieve this by using all the tools that teachers use. For example:
- You involve the audience
- you simplify
- you give an overview first
- you check understanding as you go along
- you repeat yourself
- you give examples
- You explain the same thing in multiple ways.
- You ask questions
These are all tried and tested tools that teachers use.
The added benefit of using this approach is that the focus of attention is on the audience rather then you. We have observed over and over again once-nervous presenters becoming composed, confident, and effective by adopting this teaching mindset.
‘I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.’– Albert Einstein
Next Steps to Overcome Public Speaking Nerves
- Teach, don’t tell.
- Help your audience by giving information in chunks
- Reinforce, illustrate and test understanding as you go.
- They will be happier and you will be more confident.
4. Can you get over the horror of watching yourself speaking on video?
Summary: We all hate watching ourselves on video. We avoid it rather than learn how to use video to improve ourselves. But the best speakers set up a positive feedback loop by watching and analysing themselves.
What typically goes wrong
“I hate watching myself”. I look just like my mother”. II didn’t know my voice sounded like that” “I’d much rather just do it rather than practise”. I never watch myself”
Why does this matter? If you really want to improve you need a feedback loop. That means learning how to analyse yourself so you can discover where you need to focus your efforts.
How to rehearse with video recording instead
Get over the horror hump.
When we first watch ourselves, we notice the things that are different from our expectation: we are not as young as we imagine ourselves: our voices are not as resonant; we look like a member of the family; we have a piece of hair out of place.
But, when you get used to watching – and when you get over the shock of the unexpected – then you can start analysing yourself properly. You can start disassociating yourself from what you see and analyse the underlying presentation.
When you get to this stage in your rehearsing you can see:
- Is the audience engaged?
- How is the audience feeling?
- Are the messages clear enough?
- Are there enough examples and illustrations?
- Is the argument persuasive enough?
- Have objections been addressed?
In this way, with a feedback loop, you can speed up your improvements and quickly see how small changes can make a large difference.
“I have not failed. I’ve simply discovered 10,000 ways that don’t work.”– Thomas Edison
Next Steps to Speech Rehearsal with Video Recording
- If you can’t watch yourself, start by just listening to yourself
- Keep watching until you are over the Horror hump and can start self-analysis
- Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and experience what they experience
- Keep changing, watching yourself again and changing until you are happy.
- Use the same process to view recordings of your actual talk.
- You now have a positive feedback loop.
5. Have you cut all the boring bits in your speech?
Summary: During your speech rehearsal, you will improve your speech more by subtracting than by adding.
What typically goes wrong?
A bad talk starts slowly, it winds itself up, finally says a few things, then adds some extra bits and slowly winds down until there is nothing else to say.
Why does this matter? If you audience is bored or if they have to work too hard, they will not be receptive. It’s your job as a presenter to make your subject interesting,
What to do instead in your speech rehearsal
Be ruthless when rehearsing your presentation. Cut as much as you can. If you are saying nothing, cut. If you are just being polite, cut. If you are giving irrelevant background, cut. If you are talking round the subject, cut.
Make sure every word, every phrase and every example adds to your story. Imagine your audience listening. Unless they are going to be very interested, see if you can take it out.
A great rule of thumb is to check that you are saying something interesting at least every 10 words.
‘People learn nothing when they’re asleep, and very little when they’re bored’.– John Cleese
Speech Refining Next Steps
- Review your talk and aim to say something interesting every 10 words or so.
- Cut anything that does not advance your story or could feel like padding
6. During your speech rehearsal, have you edited your speech hard enough?
Summary: Do not dilute the best ideas in your speech with other weaker ones. The editing process is where you create your compelling talk.
What typically goes wrong
A weak presenter will pack their talk with facts, information and data. They will aim to impress by quantity over quality.
Why does this matter? A talk is not the right place to convey a lot of information. A talk is to help people see the world differently, to learn new ways of thinking or to take away a few big ideas. The more that is included in a presentation, the harder it is for the listener to hear and benefit from it.
What to do instead
If you fear your talk is drowning in data, test your messages, your structure and your narrative. Keep revising at your talk until it is
“The secret of being boring is to say everything.”– Voltaire
“A designer knows he or she has achieved perfection, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Speech Editing Next Steps
- Check your talk for clarity and consistency
- See what a listener would take away from your talk
7. Is your speech energetic enough?
Summary: A passionate, enthusiastic speaker is more interesting and more credible.
What typically goes wrong
Many weaker speakers feel that enthusiasm is ‘unprofessional’. They are afraid to throw themselves into their presentation and make their words hit home.
Why does this matter? Lack of energy = dull. Your audience will respond to energy, passion and excitement.
What to do instead
Don’t underestimate the oomph needed to put on a great performance. The physical effort you invest in presenting should pay back quickly.
One simple trick in your speech rehearsal is to speak a bit louder. When you talk louder, you make more effort, which means more emphasis in your voice. The overall effect is that you make more impact and you look more impressive.
Similarly, more expression and more variation in pace, tone and emphasis is more interesting to listen to.
When you use your hands to emphasise what you say, you also sound more impressive.
If you are not naturally expressive, then spend time to build these speaking skills. One way is to rehearse your speech delivery (by yourself, with a recorder), starting with what you feel is ‘over the top’ – ie far too energetic and expressive.
Now review yourself. You’ll probably hear that you can turn up the dial even further. Keep working at this until you find a place where you sound appropriately energetic. Now work at this so that it starts to feel natural.
Exercise: with the words “Can you hear me at the back?” keep repeating these, from a whisper to a shout. Then try them with increased expressiveness, with variations in tone, pace, rhythm, emphasis. Keep at it until you feel yourself loosening up and with increased variation in your voice. Aim to be super expressive. Now go to your presentation and try it again with new confidence.
“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.”– Winston Churchill
Speech Rehearsal Next Steps
- Record yourself and listen to where your voice and energy could be improved.
- Be confident with the full range of voice – loud to soft, energetic to gentle, high pitch to low, fast to slow.
- Keep working at it until it all starts to feel natural
8. Have you rehearsed your speech at the venue?
Summary: For important talks or presentations, go to your venue beforehand and rehearse there.
What typically goes wrong
Having practised remotely, weak speakers feel confident they can do anything.
Why does this matter? When you get to the venue, things may not be as expected. Lighting, sound, stage space, view, microphones and technology can all distract or not work as expected.
What to do instead for a great speech rehearsal
Go to your location beforehand and test from where you will speak.
- Make friends with the person in charge of the AV. They can help you.
- If you have sent visual aids in advance, check that they still look good on screen (every page).
- If you bring your own laptop, check the connection, power and test how it looks on screen
- Feel where you will stand and where you will look.
- See the lighting and check if it might distract.
- Learn where you will put your notes and your glass of water.
- Test the microphone and what your amplified voice sounds like.
- If you move when you speak, note if there are places you must not go because of filming, lighting or sound feedback.
- If you have a remote, test how it works and how to go back a slide
- Try out your opening words and first few slides to test it all works well.
- Agree all cues (eg ‘time to start’, ‘time to end’ etc)
“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”– Francis of Assisi
Presentation Rehearsal Next Steps
- Have a plan and check list when you get to your venue
- The list above is a good starting point
Summary: How to rehearse a presentation for success
Practice is easy to avoid. Most weak speaker either under rehearse or do it the wrong way.
To become a really good presenter, turn your speech rehearsals into a powerful learning experience. That means the time you spend rehearsing your speech should count towards strengthening your long term speaking skills. To do this, implement the following advice:
- Start practising early, even before your presentation is finished.
- At every practice, plan to change and improve both what you say and how you say it.
- Unless you are already brilliant, book in at least three rehearsal times:
- First rehearsal, to improve what you say
- Second rehearsal to fine tune what you say
- Third rehearsal to polish delivery and performance.
- Spend more time polishing the start and the end than any other part of your talk
- Cut, change or improve everything that is boring, that does not push your case forward or does not grab attention
- Change anything that makes you stumble
- All the time, know how you want your audience to feel
- Visit the venue beforehand and get familiar
- Get feedback. Use every presentation to learn and to improve.
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”– Calvin Coolidge
About Benjamin Ball Associates
At Benjamin Ball Associates, we help our clients to communicate better. You get presentation coaching for executives.
Over 15+ years the award-winning BBA team has coached thousands of senior executives globally to present powerfully. You get access to a transformational toolbox of presentation skills & techniques to help you become a clear, confident communicator.
We’ll help you create a powerful first impression that hooks and engages your audience immediately, and we’ll transform you to deliver clearly, confidently and with impact.
Speak to Louise on +44 20 7018 0922 or email email@example.com to find out more and discuss transforming your speeches, pitches and presentations.
Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.
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