I gave a new presentation at a conference last weekend. I had been unsure about how it was going to be received. The topic was more esoteric than I usually do for a conference session. And in the days leading up to the session, I still wasn’t “feeling” it. My ideas and the narrative structure were not quite clicking into place.

But, the morning of my session I got up early, went out to breakfast with my iPad, and made a couple of tweaks to the structure that did begin to make it all click. It was a “Duh, why didn’t I see that before” moment. Weeks of stewing on a topic can have you just treading water, but the urgency of a shipping date can force clarity.

Then I found the meeting room where my presentation would take place later that morning. The projector was already set up and on for a session that was to start in the room an hour later. So I dicconnected the hotel PC, hooked up my iPad, and quietly rehearsed with my slides, working an empty room in my t-shirt and shorts. And I walked out finally “feeling” it, ready to go on just a couple of hours later. 

I used to scoff at the thought of rehearsing a presentation. But a college speech professor emphasized it so much I gave it a go for a speech in his class. And I was surprised at how transformational it was. Saying my presentation in advance, out loud, just as I would with an audience, helped smooth out the transitions and find flaws and opportunities and even good jokes that I wouldn’t have if I had just gone over the notes in my mind. 

And that happened last weekend again. I should have started talking this presentation out much earlier in the process, especially with new material. If I had rehearsed even a few days sooner, I doubt I would have struggled as much with having this talk click for me.

If you’re giving a talk or leading a meeting or performing for others in any way, make time to rehearse it, out loud. Find the room you’ll be in if you can. If not, any space will do where you can practice without feeling self-conscious.

I don’t know if my audience last Saturday left any better for having been in my presentation. (Surveys will come in later.) But I left feeling that I had given good energy and thoughtful insight, and it seemed I had made a genuine connection wtih the people in the room. 

Leaving with that feeling wouldn’t have been likely had I not walked in with the confidence that only solid preparation and rehearsal can provide.