How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. Practice. Practice. We’ve all heard it a million times. Just as often in my role as a writer and coach for many C-suite inhabitants and aspirants do I hear, “I don’t have time to rehearse,” usually followed by, “I already know the material.”
If practice gets you to a bigger stage but no one makes time to rehearse, what’s the difference, and does it matter to those in leadership positions? The answer, in my experience, is yes, there is a difference and it does matter — a lot.
If you Google “practice” and “rehearsal,” you’ll find dozens of articles — for musicians.
The music industry defines “practice” as what one does on an individual basis, such as going over phrases, experimenting with different breath or bow strokes, depending on the instrument. “Rehearsal” is a group activity when the ensemble comes together and plays as one.
Most leaders need to spend more time getting ready. What does that mean to a leader if there’s no ensemble and it’s just an individual presentation?
The most common presentation scenario is where a singular presenter is addressing a group — the board, senior executives, team colleagues or others — followed by a certain amount of time allotted for questions.
Today, in an increasingly common scenario, leaders submit a memo in which attendees are to read beforehand, meant to serve as background for the presenter’s facilitated conversation. In these and other scenarios, leaders define being ready as thinking about their material and visually looking at it, particularly their PowerPoint slides. We’ve seen countless clients tweaking their PowerPoint slides up until the moment of delivery. This is akin to simple practice — a compelling presentation is more than just covering facts and information. Expectations are much higher today. A presentation that stands out will focus on what the presenter wants the audience to remember and pass on. Following is a list of the components necessary for true rehearsal and a definition of what that means.
A good presentation will be choreographed, starting with a setup that reinforces its theme and engages the audience. Here’s an example: An executive was making a pitch to the company’s board for millions of dollars to make almost all of their interactions digital. He began by opening a box he had carried into the room. He explained that they currently had multiple required applications that customers had to fill out. The big reveal was that he had taped the pages together, and as he walked the length of the room, he pulled it out behind him leaving yards of paper and announcing “and it’s double-sided.” He then launched into a financial and operational explanation, but he had made his point and got the funding to eliminate redundancies and streamline the digital process.
A good presentation will also have clear headlines of the main points the presenter wants the audience to remember. It will have planned interaction with the audience throughout, recognizing that people listen in and listen out, and asking questions of the audience keeps them engaged. It may have props — my former boss, President Ronald Reagan, almost always had a letter from a constituent he could pull out of his breast pocket. He would read a sentence to reinforce a point and recapture the audience’s attention.
A good presentation will have a clear, compelling conclusion, and the presenter should be prepared at the conclusion of the question-and-answer section to reiterate the takeaway.
These are elements to plan and rehearse by bringing your presentation together as an ensemble. Don’t just practice — also known as just visually skimming text or notes. Speak them aloud as if to a room with the size audience you expect. Several times. The basic components of rehearsal to verbalize are setup, headlines, interactive questions to the audience, props, conclusion and reiterating the final takeaway.
A great presentation includes rehearsal. We call this “rehearsal” because we expect the leader already knows the material and can already deliver a presentation. The important point is this additional exercise can be done in just five to ten minutes. Any presentation worth constructing is worth spending this small amount of additional time. The result of verbalizing the elements will ensure a confident presentation is delivered and makes an impact.
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Author: Merrie Spaeth, Forbes Councils Member