Create a Safe Rehearsal Zone

Rehearsal is extremely important.  It is equally important that everyone on the team feel they are in a safe environment to rehearse.  Safe means that they can fumble through ideas and concepts without people jumping on their every word. Safe means the leader is not trying to micro-manage the entire presentation and everyone’s part. Safe means that people can experiment with what they want to say and change what doesn’t resonate without feeling like a dope.

Rehearse safely, my friends.

How to Write a Presentation

When it’s time to write a presentation, most people put together an outline which they immediately turn into a PowerPoint.  They rehearse it once or twice to themselves, and then think they’re good to go.

Writing a powerful presentation is like writing a good article. You write, then rewrite, then rewrite some more.  Professional writers rewrite their work a dozen times. Look to make it more condensed. Try to eliminate half the bullet points. Knock out the redundancies and overly glib lines. Just put the key points on the slides, not every word you’re going to say.

Be single focused.  Ask yourself what is the one thing you want everyone to remember and make sure it is in the open, middle and close.

Finally, have a friend listen to you present it.  Fix those parts where he or she either passes out or glazes over.

Work it, baby.

Fear of Public Speaking

People fear speaking in public more than death. (I’ve seen both things happen simultaneously in my workshops)

I have a theory based on my own speaking experiences. When I know the material, when I know everything about the material, I’m a pretty good presenter.  But, when I’ve memorized the presentation, then I’m nervous.  There’s a big difference between knowing and memorizing.

I get to know the material by discussing it, reviewing it, reworking it in rehearsals and presenting it over and over again —without a script—until I know it in my bones. I focus on the opening, because if I can get past that smoothly, the rest is cake.

You can’t avoid being nervous when giving a presentation, but you can feel very confident knowing the material better than anyone else in the room.

How to Win the Business Pitch

Recently someone told me that while they understand the importance of rehearsal, there is just never enough time to do it.  There’s hardly enough time to prepare the proposal and to think about the prospect’s challenges and solutions.

But, often what wins the pitch is the pitch.  All of the prep work you did needs to be choreographed into a seamless story that the client can grasp, appreciate and, recognize that it is coming from a well oiled team.  To do it best, everyone on the team needs to rehearse together.  Everyone has to make time.

If you don’t want to rehearse, or can’t do it, then don’t waste all of those hours and money. Your chances of winning just dropped.

It seems crazy to put all of that time in schmoozing a prospect and investing in a proposal to waste it all because you couldn’t find time to rehearse.


Selling The Big Idea

Often times in a pitch you are presenting some big idea that your team worked diligently on.  If the idea is truly a blockbuster there are two dangers you should be aware of:

-You’re so anxious to present this killer idea that you don’t fully communicate the thinking that went into it,

-You fall into the trap of believing that because the idea is so good, the explanation doesn’t need to be.  “The idea will speak for itself.”

It is criminal to not sell a great idea because you didn’t package it properly in a solid presentation, and didn’t rehearse thoroughly.

Rehearse Like a Basketball Player

Professional athletes practice. They practice all of the time.  Even after playing 6 or 7 games in a row, basketball players come out the next morning to practice.

If you’re making a presentation you need to practice.  You need to think through all of your plays. How are you going to open?  What is the single big message you want people to take away? How will you summarize and what action will you ask of the audience?  Then you need to rehearse all of this in front of real people.

Now you’re ready for game day.

The Best Way to Rehearse

The best way to rehearse your presentation is in front of people. Any people.  Half of the reason we’re all so anxious about speaking in public is — the public. We worry about how our comments will be received, and if we look goofy saying them. So, while rehearsing in front of a mirror can help a bit, the best practice is in front of real people;  colleagues, spouses, children, strangers on the subway.

This will help you enormously and you’ll quickly see just by their expressions what works and what doesn’t work. You’ll feel more confident.

Using notes in a presentation

The most frequently asked question in my workshop is whether the presenter can use notes or not.

If the notes are a couple of words to remind you of each topic you want to cover, then those notes could be helpful.

If the notes require that you constantly look down to keep your place in your presentation, then that’s a problem.  When you look down at your notes you can’t also keep eye contact with your audience.  You’re less interesting because you’re not thinking about what you’re saying, only about what you’re reading. You’re much more prone to get lost in your remarks because if you do lose to your place, you have no life-line. And, the audience loses interest in you when you don’t have eye contact.

Not using notes does require a certain amount of preparation and rehearsal, which most people hate to do.  But, if you’re going to all that trouble to put yourself on the line in front of others, why not invest the time to make yourself great.

Rehearse Transitions in a Presentation

One of the many reasons everyone needs to prepare and rehearse is to have intelligent transitions from one thought to the next.  You may know the subject matter cold, but unless you’ve planned the flow of your remarks, you can fall into an awkward pattern in which you repeat the same things over and over as you search for a bridge to the next part of your comments.

Don’t assume because you know the topic that you know the speech.

Prepare and rehearse every time.

Video Your Presentation Rehearsals

Much of the work that goes into presentation skill training has to do with very basic techniques – volume, eye contact, posture, smiling, enunciation, etc.  These techniques are so basic that one client, a lawyer, questioned whether he should spend time working on them because he thought he had command of these things whenever he spoke.

But then, after he saw himself on video tape, he realized he didn’t do any of them.  In fact, he scowled and mumbled. His only eye contact was with the ceiling.

“Watching myself on tape changed my presentation style dramatically.  It was amazing.”

You’ll become a better, more powerful speaker fast when your training includes video taping every exercise.

How to Rehearse a Team Presentation

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”     Muhammad Ali

Training.  Rehearsal. Same thing. Everyone needs to rehearse. And, everyone hates rehearsing. But, you got to.  If you are presenting with others, they should also be at the rehearsal.  Pay particular attention to how each person opens and closes their segment and how each person hands over to the next person.  If possible, rehearse without notes so you get to know the material and not memorize the script.

Thanks Champ.

Hone Your Presentation Message

Creating an elevator speech for your next presentation is a great exercise for honing your message.  Create a 30 second statement that describes what the main takeaway of your presentation is, how and why the audience will benefit from it and the action you’ll ask people to take after hearing it.

Next, call your voice mail and leave that elevator speech as a message.  When you listen to it later, you’ll have enough distance to react and edit, if need be.

This provides you with a great tool.  You now have the direction for developing the complete presentation. And, when people ask you what you’ll be speaking about, you can tell them. Just the act of reciting the elevator speech to different people will give you more confidence and make you calmer when the time comes to stand and deliver.

Cultural Presentation Differences

American’s have a clear style of presenting. We speak louder. We are more animated and we make eye contact. This is not necessarily the style in other countries. In my workshops I often have foreign born participants come to me to say how challenging the class is for them, not because of the barriers of language but culture. Many of the things we encourage as more powerful ways to present are considered a faux pas in other countries.

What’s the solution? When in Rome…or in this case the United States, present in a manner that fits our expectations.

Rehearse the Whole Pitch, Not Just Words

Try to rehearse your entire presentation, not just the words.  Rehearse how you will stand, gestures, pauses, theatrical embellishments. Rehearse how you will work the room with your eyes.  If you will be presenting seated, rehearse seated. Duplicate as much of the real situation as possible.

And, always rehearse in front of others.

Presentations Require Preparation

The will to succeed is important, but what’s more important is the will to prepare.

Bobby Knight, Basketball coach


Behind every great presentation is lots of hours of preparation.  Lots and lots.

Helping Others Rehearse

If you are helping someone rehearse a presentation, follow Alex Haley’s advice: Find the good and praise it.

It’s more important to make the speaker confident than to nitpick a word or two.


Memory Technique

I’ve found it’s best to learn a speech point by point, not word for word.

–George Plimpton

Weeks of Prep, Minutes of Rehearsal

When I was in advertising, I saw that most teams spent weeks putting a campaign together and minutes thinking about how to present it to the client.

If you create brilliant work but have a dull presentation, it isn’t the client’s fault if they don’t buy it.


Dress Rehearsal Rules

Treat a dress rehearsal like a real presentation.

If you flub, don’t stop and restart. Keep going and learn how to adjust.

If it sounds like a speech, rewrite it.

Your presentation should sound like you, not like a formal, structured thesis.  You are best when you are you.  As you rehearse the text out loud if it doesn’t sound like the you we all know and love…start over.

Rehearsal Tip

When helping a colleague rehearse a presentation,  the more positive the discussion, the more positive the outcome.  The closer the rehearsal is to the actual presentation, the less critique and the more praise usually makes for a happier outcome.

How to Give a Presentation Without Note Cards

Instead of note cards use a process called chunking.  When we arrange information into groups, it’s easier to remember. That’s why a phone number is chunked into sections instead of one long 10 digest number.




Arrange the content of your presentation into 3 or 4 sections.  It will be a lot easier to remember, and easier for the audience to digest.


If you need help call me.

Always Have a Dress Rehearsal

Rehearsals are valuable. The last rehearsal, the dress rehearsal, is particularly important.

Here is how to make that dress rehearsal more productive:
-Once you start the rehearsal, it’s game conditions. You don’t stop until the end.
-If someone flubs, they must keep going. In a real presentation you can’t start over.
-The time for comments and fine tuning is over. Be careful of changing any speakers content or role too close to the actual pitch.
-If you are presenting as a team, rehearse as a team.
-Rehearse in similar physical conditions to the real location. Sit and stand as you would in the real pitch. Ditto handovers.
-If using PowerPoint and other presentation visuals, who, on the pitch team, will control the remote and set-up.
-Everyone says their entire part, no “and then I’ll say yadda yadda yadda”
-Have people sit on the other side of the table to present to. If you are going to have a Q&A session, have those people ask questions.
-Check your timing when finished. Allowing for the Q&A period, your total time should never exceed the time allotted.

Finish the rehearsal positive and charged. Avoid laundry lists of criticism. If you are the pitch leader, smile, be positive and everyone will join you and think good thoughts.

Rehearse Like the Greats

The legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice at age 90. “Because, I think I’m making progress,” he replied.

You want to make a great presentation?

Practice. Practice, Practice, Practice.


Video Killed the Radio Star

In a recent class at Harvard, when we videotaped the presenters for their ‘final exercise’, something  amazing and reoccurring happened.  In a class of 24 doctors, each person commented on seeing something about their own body language that they had no idea they were doing.  What needed to be fixed was always easy to do; like smiling, eye contact, and posture.  Have a friend or coworker videotape your next rehearsal or presentation.  The results will be amazing.

Presentation Tip: Rehearsals are Fail-proof, PowerPoint is not.

A former student wrote recently that during a presentation he was giving, the computer crashed. No PowerPoint! Luckily, he’d been taught how important rehearsing is. Not only did he nail his presentation, but afterward a number of colleagues congratulated him on one of his ‘best presentations yet’. This is an important lesson about presenting: Tech will always fail us; rehearsing never will.