The power of practice

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The subject line of the email read: “We got the business!!!” The note came from a client whose team of three presenters just won a million-dollar contract. In the past, they’d had mixed success with their presentations. Like many of us, they were overwhelmed with their day-to-day work and found it challenging to find time to create and rehearse their presentations. So, what was the key to their success this time? They made the commitment to practice.

I’d worked with the three presenters before, so while there were many approaches to getting ready for the presentation, we focused on three principles during our practice sessions.

1. Keep It Simple. We started by practicing each person’s opening to their segment of the presentation. They’d focus on their talking points and one delivery skill, such as pausing. We’d repeat the practice until they could speak smoothly and with confidence. Almost like a ‘drill’ to build an athletic skill. After that, we quickly expanded the focus until the team was delivering the entire presentation, working on transitions and how to handle questions. Like a full-blown ‘scrimmage’.

Key Takeaway: Identify one piece of content and one delivery skill that are important to the success of your presentation. Keep your practice simple to start. You’ll build on success and increase your confidence for delivering the entire presentation.

2. Be Social. Once the team reached the scrimmage stage, we invited colleagues to observe a practice session and provide feedback. The focus of the feedback was on the positives - what was working and the progress that had occurred. The support from peers gave the team insights into how to present their ideas and helped the three presenters bond together as a group.

Key Takeaway: Reach out to others for input as you create and practice your presentation. Do a live practice vs. reading through your notes at your desk or on the plane. Keep a positive state of mind – focus on progress vs. perfection.

3. Make It A Habit. Once we’d done our drills, scrimmages and social practices, each presenter worked on their own to fine-tune their delivery. Recent research indicates that it takes a minimum of 3 practice repetitions before information starts moving from short-term to long-term memory.

Without practice you rely on short-term memory. You’re constantly looking at your slides or notes to remember what you want to say. Your attention is on the content, so you lose track of your delivery and how the audience is responding. When the information is in long-term memory you know what you’re going to say, so you focus on connecting with the audience.

Key Takeaway: Practice, practice, practice…! Build in rehearsal time as you prepare for your presentation.

After winning the contract, the presenting team went back to their new client and asked for feedback. The client said that the team: “Spoke confidently on issues that are important us.”; “Interacted very well with our group.”; and “They seemed to enjoy presenting together.” To me, these comments showed that the areas where the team practiced contributed to their success.

Need help with your next presentation?

Contact me.

While all of your presentations may not have a million-dollar payoff, the power of practice is undeniable. When you know what you want to say, connect with the audience and deliver with confidence, you achieve something just as valuable: you make a difference by speaking up and sharing your ideas.

If you’re interested in learning more about behavior change and the brain, check out the web site for the NeuroLeadership Institute.  It’s a great resource!