The Need for Rehearsal
We all know we really should do it but few people do. For the vast majority of people who do talks, the idea of rehearsing is one of these nice optional extras that tend to get forgotten. Who has time to do a full run-through anyway? Surely there are better ways to fill your time.
It all depends on how good you want the talk to be, really. The truth is that the more time you put into getting the talk right, the better it will be. For an informal or unimportant progress report or update, you might get away without rehearsing. On the other hand, if you are addressing a crowd of several hundred or presenting to people who might hire you in the future, you’d be a fool to go unprepared.
So how much time do you need to spend rehearsing? Again, that depends on a lot of things. You see, there are three levels of rehearsal.
The first, I call “rehearsing ‘til you know”. At this point, you know how long your talk will take, what the main points are and you can do the talk from notes rather than a script. For me, this is the minimum level for any talk that has any importance. Mostly, you will get there in only one or two run-throughs and, best of all, by this point, you can be sure that your talk will fit nicely into whatever length of time it has been given. You can also be sure that you won’t be one of those people who has to apologise for skipping out several slides as you don’t have time to go through them.
Still, unless you know the topic inside and out, at this point, you might still be a bit hesitant. You will know your main points but not necessarily how they all work together. You can deliver the talk well enough but you still really need your notes.
The next point is called “rehearsing ‘til it flows”. This is the point where you can use your notes confidently and you can transition from one point to the next with a minimum of fuss. If you lose your place, it’s no big deal, as the shape of the talk is already in your head. At the point, you can get more into your talk, walking around a bit, relaxing a bit and generally having a lot more fun.
There really isn’t a massive downside to this point in rehearsal, which is probably why it is so tempting to stay there. You look and sound and feel confident and only an audience member watching your every move would notice your eyes dropping down to your notes occasionally. For the vast majority of talks, this level should be where you are headed.
There is one more level however, which I have rarely been to but when you see someone achieve it, it is completely mindblowing. I call this last level “rehearsing ‘til it goes”. It stands for those rare presentations when notes are not even necessary so they don’t even get looked at. For ten minutes, or twenty or thirty, the speaker has you in the palm of his or her hand. Without the safety net of a podium, the speaker seems to talk from the very core of who they are. Their mastery of their subject is unparalleled and their ability to connect with you is undeniable.
How long does this take? Well, from my own experience, I would say that it varies depending on the length of the talk. For a short five or six minutes, five or six rehearsals might suffice. For much longer than that, you might easily spend ten times the length of the talk in rehearsals and still not pull it off.
This last level would be reserved only for those events when you have the time and energy to invest in such a massive undertaking. If, for whatever reason, the talk needs to make a strong impact, rehearsing ‘til it goes will give you a great starting point. For connecting with an audience, it is an incredibly powerful tool.
These three levels are a good guide for the payoff you will experience for different amounts of rehearsal. At the very least, you should always aim to rehearse ‘til you know your talk and are well-timed and relaxed enough to do it justice.