May 26, 2009

Practice like you mean it



While I was working out at the track the other day, football practice was in session on the field. I had the perfect vantage point to watch these young men run drill after drill, over and over, with constant adjustments from the coaches.

Here are some tips for you on practicing your presentation, based on the effort I witnessed on the field.

1. Practice right

What's the point of practicing if you're practicing the same mistakes over and over? Get some feedback, either through videotape, a trusted friend, or a coach, and work on practicing your presentations without ingraining your bad habits.

2. Practice as though you're in the game


These young men were running passing drills with the speed, focus and intensity you would see in a game. The quarterbacks blocked imaginary defenders (or sometimes the coach), ran their pattern and passed to the receivers, who on their side of the field were running their butts off to make it to the ball.

When you practice your presentation, practice as though you're in front of the audience. Try out your humor; speak with the emotion and passion you will demonstrate "in real life." When you practice it, it becomes natural and comfortable for you, and the audience can feel your enthusiasm.

3. Practice the details

The football drills were detailed and the players practiced specific patterns. The coach would stop them to point out body position, angles, footwork or passing techniques. Every detail and every second matters in sports, and in presenting.

Practice making eye contact. Practice using your props and flip charts. Practice using your remote device if using slides. Practice using your timer. If you'll be recording yourself, practice with the microphone and recorder so they won't distract you on the day. Pay attention to the details. Details count.

If these guys play like they practice, they've got nothing to worry about -- and neither will you!

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11 comments. Please add yours! :

Vince Stevenson said...

The major point here is that sweat, blood and toil doesn't make you better at anything. Expert practise makes for expert performance, so listening to that objective feedback along the speaking journey is absolutely vital. Rgds Vince

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks, Vince. You're so right. You can put in all the effort, but if you're practicing bad habits, you will continue to have bad habits!

Stevie King said...

This post is a double hitter for me. I am practicing and preparing for the Regional International speech contest and I coach my son's football team which began practicing a couple of weeks ago. One of the things I preach to them is that we only do things one way, and that's the right way. In my preparation so far I have not been putting on my game face. I really need to practice what I preach.

Timely and a great analogy!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for the perfect example, Stevie!

Marcus Smith said...

Lisa

I'm interested in your feedback on this. I've prescribed various amounts of practice time to different clients.

How much practice is too little in your opinion?

How much practice is too much in your opinion?

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Marcus, I just posted a response to a similar question today, and here's what I said.

>> Some people will tell you to practice x number of hours for every hour of your presentation. I don't believe that there's a formula that works for everyone, however, but yes, you have to put in the time, even though it's not as much fun as standing in front of a real audience!

For a typical one-hour presentation, I will probably spend about 6-8 hours practicing. I break it up over a week or two, practicing every other day or leaving two days between practices to let the material sink in.

It's especially important to practice with any props and equipment, and it's especially important to get your opening and closing down cold.

It takes time, but it's worth it to make sure you're giving the best value to your audience.<<

Too little practice is when you don't go over your presentation until the last minute, a couple of days before, and only one or two times. And not paying attention to details and nuances.

Too much practice is when you find yourself memorizing your material and doing and saying things the same way every time!

That's sort of my nutshell response.

Lee Potts said...

Hi Lisa,

Here's the Breaking Murphy's Law take on the subject.Rikk's story in the post is a good reminder that it's important to make sure the "backstage" folks get to practice as well. This can go a long way toward preventing disaster.

Cynthia said...

My problem when I practice is that, being a bit of a perfectionist, I tend to start my thought over every time I make a mistake or lose my place, even if it's only a minor flub. Any tips on when to keep going and when to stop? My mind also tends to go blank when I speak to an empty room. Sometimes it helps to go for a walk and practice my speech on my walk, which, as you can imagine, is a little embarrassing, as it's looks like I'm schizophrenic. But it distracts and relaxes me just enough to keep the words flowing.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Cynthia, you have to practice in whatever way works best for you. If walking and talking works, go for it! Put on your Bluetooth headset and you'll look like you're on the phone!

Regarding stopping or keeping going, it depends on how the flow is going. If the audience is fired up and we're clipping along at a good energetic pace, I might just skip over something and try to come back later. If they're more laid back and we're in more of a conversational mode, I might stop and say, "Hey, wait a sec. Where was I?" and then take a look at my notes.

It's never wrong to stop and look at your notes if you have to. It's just part of being human; we all forget our place sometimes. It's worse to try to cover it up, get embarrassed and flustered, and make it a bigger deal than it is!

Cynthia said...

Actually, I meant stopping and starting while practicing, not during the actual performance. Maybe it's just me, but I have more trouble forging ahead when I'm practicing than when I'm in front of an audience.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Cynthia, I stop and start a lot during practice, too. That's what practice is for! I scribble notes, try things different ways, mess up and start over. Whatever works best for you, as long as you make it through the whole presentation a couple of times.

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