by Allison Pollard
What can I do to practice?
You are wise to practice before your big event! While some speakers brag about making last-minute changes to their presentations just hours before an event, many of us practice aloud to ourselves or do dry-runs with trusted friends to reduce our own stress and minimize the need for last-minute changes.
The goal is to ensure that the structure of your session is solid and that you’re comfortable speaking about the topic. You are not aiming to memorize your presentation. Memorized talks often sound stilted, and the speaker’s passion for the topic is lost. Plus, it’s normal to feel nervous just before a talk, and you may forget what you were going to say—then what? Practice means internalizing the topic so you can speak naturally through the flow of your presentation and respond to the audience.
You’ve already been thinking about your topic a lot and clarifying your thinking on it as you plan your talk. It’s developed from initial concept into an outline and expanded into a presentation. That was your first rehearsal. You might have developed speaker notes in the process as you refined the flow. Writing speaker notes can be beneficial as a form of practice. They enable you to figure out your prompts and transitions. The speaker notes themselves are not useful for the actual presentation, though. It’s nearly impossible to read them from a laptop, and holding physical notes to read from can be awkward. Slides or posters for your presentation ultimately work like flash cards to cue the next part for you.
It’s rarely mentioned, but another key to practicing your talk is to get comfortable hearing your own voice. Introverts and extroverts alike can be amazing speakers. Introverts may be more accustomed to hearing their voice in their head as they’re thinking, and hearing yourself talking in front of a group can feel weird at first. Practice your talk aloud to yourself, to your family, to your friends, to anyone who will listen. You might even volunteer to be on a podcast to talk about your topic. Talk until you’re tired of hearing your own voice, and maybe one more time after that.
Find out in advance how many attendees might attend and what the room setup will be like. You’ll be able to better visualize your session and plan for audience interaction with that information. You’ll want to visit the room well before your session to verify the setup and get familiar with the space. Many of us have walked into rooms and been surprised by something: a pillar in the middle of the room, chairs in a theater-style when we expected tables (or vice versa), or a raised platform with a podium when we expected to engage directly with attendees during activities. It’s easier to figure out how to change the room setup or change your plan when you see the space hours beforehand.
Internalizing your topic and getting comfortable with your own voice are the essentials to practicing for your event. Seeing the physical space in advance will allow you to get comfortable with the room and make any adjustments to your talk that may be needed. With these in mind, you’ll be ready to deliver a great presentation.