How to practice for a presentation like a pro

Even the best public speakers have to start somewhere. You might not feel like a natural speaker, but by dedicating time to prepare and practice, you can work your way up to making even the most high-stakes presentations. You just need to know where to start.

Every great presentation starts with great content. What you say needs to be interesting and engaging.

However, effective presentation skills go far beyond the words on the page. Writing the presentation is only half the process. The most brilliant presentations depend on effective communicators who can get that information across in engaging and powerful ways.

If you approach your presentation practice the right way, you can get there as well. The tips in this article can help you not only create a great presentation but also improve your overall public speaking skills over time.

12 tips to optimize your presentation practice

Even the most eloquent speakers can’t just turn a brilliant idea into a brilliant speech. Everyone needs practice. These 10 tips will help you practice your presentation like a pro and provide you with an actionable plan that will ultimately improve your entire presentation.

1. Start preparing for your presentation early

We’re all busy. But if you’re still writing or editing your presentation the day before you deliver it, you won’t have enough time to practice. Instead, start to prepare your presentation at least two or, ideally, four weeks before you’re scheduled to hold it. That way, you can ensure you have plenty of time to get the content right and practice it to the point of near perfection.

2. Schedule dedicated practice time

Even if you start early, you can’t assume you’ll have time for practice before the big moment. Instead, treat your practice like you would treat an important business meeting. Schedule time to make sure that anything from the overall flow to the message delivery is just right.

But how much time will you need? That depends on the length of the talk. Some coaches recommend as much as 30 hours of practice for every hour you plan to present. But a shorter, completely memorized presentation can take more time to practice than a longer talk for which you just have rough notes. As a general rule, assume a 10x multiplier between the time of your speech and the time you need to practice it.

3. Prepare presentation notes

If you want to fully engage your audience, one of the biggest mistakes you can make in any presentation is to simply read your script. You need to be able to keep eye contact at key moments and sound natural while presenting.

Depending on the length of your speech, you might not be able to memorize every word. This is where your presentation notes come in.

Start by either writing down your exact script or outlining your key talking points. From there, you can jot down a few key terms that will help you remember your main talking points and the flow of your talk. Use them as cue cards to help you stay on track as you practice.

4. Practice individual chunks

Another common mistake is trying to cover every bit of your content every time. If you always practice from beginning to end and restart at the beginning every time you make a mistake, you’ll be more practiced at giving the start of your talk than the end.

Instead, use the chunks you have created through your outline and notes as smaller, manageable pieces you can practice individually. Each of them may only take a few minutes, making it much easier to slip practice time into an already busy day. This approach also allows you to spend more time on the chunks you might struggle to remember or deliver effectively, ultimately helping the entire process.

5. Pay special attention to the beginning and end

The two most important pieces of your speech are the beginning and the end. It pays to spend extra time just focusing on these two phases.

You need to grab the audience’s attention right at the start. Use the end to bring it all together and help the audience remember the most important element.

Practice every part of how you start, not just with the exact words you say but your body language, physical movement and how you transition from the opening into the main content.

Similarly, the end should feel satisfying to your audience and clearly denote that you got your point across through confident body language.

6. Tie key points to visual cues

Are you struggling to remember some pieces of your presentation? Consider tying them to visual cues that you might find easier to memorize.

There are two approaches. You can create abstract cues, like tying a specific part of your speech to a visual memory. Alternatively, you might make some cues more specific, like pictures or furniture in the actual presentation space that you connect with the concepts you want to cover.

As you practice, either option helps trigger your memory of the concept and makes it easier to remember.

You can also use your slide deck as a way to help you keep your presentation on track. Don’t use the slides as a crutch. Instead, use visuals that support your presentation to help maintain your flow.

7. Practice your presentation out loud while standing up

As part of your practice, you need to simulate the real circumstances you’ll encounter as closely as possible. At its core, that means talking out loud while standing. If you’re only reading through your script quietly in your head, you won’t be able to practice the emphasis of specific words, expressions and non-verbal cues.

8. Add some mild stress to the environment

Chances are you won’t have an actual ghost audience to practice with. But you can still simulate the real environment by adding some context and stress.

Practice in front of the mirror, but also with real people. Practice where there’s a chance of someone walking in or your dog jumping up on you so you can simulate what it might feel like to be distracted.

Consider using your driving time to practice. Put on some music or a podcast in the background that might cause your mind to wander.

Making the conditions for practice just a little more difficult can do wonders to reduce stress when you come to give the real presentation.

9. Record a full run-through

Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you run through your entire speech. Try to record it with both audio and video to gather some insights on where you can improve.

Your audio recording allows you to focus on your speech’s cadence and content. Where are you talking too fast or too slow? Where could you pause more? Listening back to yourself helps you communicate with confidence and clarity.

Your video recording, on the other hand, allows you to focus on nonverbal communication. Use it for body language tracking. This will help make sure you’re working toward an enthusiastic speech in both your language and gestures.

10. Reserve some practice time for nonverbal cues

Review the video recording you’ve made with plenty of time to spare. That allows you to work on your nonverbal communication and helps ensure that the day of delivery goes smoothly in every possible way.

You can also use the video to pick up on any habits. For example, you might notice that you’re looking down or at your slides too often. You might also see that your nerves are making you snap your fingers, touch your face or pace around, which is off-putting for the audience.

11. Ask others for specific feedback

Practicing in front of a real person, in real time, is the best way to prepare for your talk. Asking for feedback on performance can also be helpful. It can build your confidence and improve your presentation. Ask others who know your presentation topic to review your current progress and give advice on where you might be able to improve.

If practicing in front of someone for feedback isn’t possible, you can send them your video recording.

The best way to get good feedback is to ask for it in very specific terms. Don’t ask a general question like, “What did you think of my performance?” Instead, ask questions like:

  • How was my pacing?
  • Did I repeat myself?
  • Was this point clear?
  • Did my slides enhance or distract from my words?
  • Was my joke funny?

The more specific, the better.

12. Find the perfect place to stop

Finally, remember that over-practicing is a real thing. While you need plenty of time to get comfortable, you’ll eventually get to a point where your speech sounds unnatural. This happens if you’re just trying to remember the right words. You’ll need to go beyond this point to where you know the speech so well that it sounds natural and flowing. This is where you need to stop.

More specifically, look for the best time to stop based on your comfort level. You don’t need to get every word right, but a few run-throughs are probably a good idea.

Once you feel comfortable with your delivery and content, go through it one more time within 24 hours of the speech and then call it a day.

From practice to perfection for your next presentation

Ultimately, every speech is a story you tell your audience. Think of it as an opportunity to provide your audience with new knowledge and insights they wouldn’t have without you. This means crafting a memorable story that influences and inspires your audience.

Find the right story at the right time to upgrade your presentations, and tell stories that sell with the Storyteller Tactics Card Deck by Pip Decks. That’s how you can make your next presentation one your audience will be sure to remember.

FAQs

What is the 5/5/5 rule for better presentations?

The 5/5/5 rule in presentations relates specifically to visual aids like PowerPoint slides.

According to the rule, no speech should have more than five slides, no slide should have more than five lines, and no line should have more than five words. Anything more turns the visual aid into a distraction.

How do you introduce yourself in a presentation?

Keep your introduction brief and to the point, focusing only on the elements of your background that are relevant to the speech and its content. That builds credibility, while also allowing you to pivot quickly to the piece your audience is there for: the actual content of the presentation.

Tell a story about yourself that shows the audience who you are rather than just repeating your credentials.

How can you practice presentation skills at home?

Start by practicing in front of the mirror to evaluate your presentation skills. Record yourself early in the process, both to see yourself and to elicit feedback from others who might not be physically present.

You can also review footage or comb your memory for earlier talks you’ve given to see and practice areas requiring improvement in the future.

How many times should you practice your presentation?

Most experts recommend a 30x multiplier for every speech you give. So, for a speech that will last 30 minutes, you need 15 hours of practice.

However, if you follow some of the tips above, you might not need to practice quite so much. Practicing in individual chunks, for example, allows you to work through and improve your speech with just a few complete run-throughs.


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