The Right Amount of Practice for a Presentation

Gerry in front of an audience delivering a presentation

A coaching client of mine shared with me last week her disappointment in a presentation. Before I could even ask why she said, “I know I didn’t put in enough work ahead of time. I didn’t practice enough.”

Preparing a presentation is only the first step in the process.

The Process

Here are the three steps to a success presentation or speech:

  1. Prepare
  2. Practice
  3. Perform

A lot of people get lost on step two: practice. Just because you put your PowerPoint together doesn’t mean you’re ready to go.

The Dilemma

Every football coach shares this same dilemma with presenters. What’s the right amount of work to put in ahead of time? Put in too little work and you won’t perform well because you won’t be comfortable. Put in too much work and you won’t perform well because you will have left your best performance on the practice field.

The Target

There is no one-size-fits-all answer for the amount of work to put in. But there is a universal target to shoot for in your practice. You know you are ready when you can do two things:

  1. Easily anticipate what’s coming next in your presentation throughout the entire length of your presentation.
  2. Take any portion of your presentation and comfortably deliver it during your commute to work

When you can mentally run through your presentation and know that after your open comes the story of your trip to Tuscany. And after that comes your research on trend X. And after that comes your insights from working with company Y. And after that comes…you get the idea. When you know the outline and the flow of your presentation you have the big picture.

When you can pull any part of your presentation out and deliver it by itself on your car ride or commute to or from work, then you know you have a grasp on the small picture too.

How to Know You Are Ready

Those are the two landmarks I use to know I’m ready. If I’m not comfortable with either one, I know have to do more work.

I want to emphasize that I didn’t say “memorize.” When you strive to memorize a presentation or a speech you will almost always over-practice. By the time you nail it you will be so tired of that presentation or speech you will find it tedious. When you perform that emotion will come through and your audience will likely find it tired and tedious too.

The Big Picture and Small Picture

You want to have a high comfort level with the big picture–the flow of the presentation–and the small picture–the content in each section of the presentation.

Once you have that you’re ready to move on to the third step in the process: performance. We’ll cover that in a later blog. For now, know that the goal of your practice is to give you a high level of comfort in your performance so you’re not wasting a lot of energy trying to remember what comes next, but also enough flexibility so that when the performance adrenaline brings you a brilliant idea, line, phrase, or insight in the middle of your presentation, you aren’t so locked into what you memorized that you can easily use it and adjust in the moment.

When to Stop Practicing

When you feel comfortable with the flow of the presentation and confident in your understanding of each part of the presentation, you are ready to go. That’s when you stop practicing. That’s when it’s time to shift your attention to performing.

As late NFL coach Tom Landry once said, “When the time to perform has arrived, the time to prepare has passed.”

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