Three reasons to start rehearsing before you fine tune your speech content

Have you ever crafted a nearly perfect presentation only to watch it fall flat upon delivery? All too many speakers toil away on the content of a presentation in the weeks and days before it is slated for delivery. They don’t see the value of practicing it out loud as they are fine tuning it, so they end up rehearsing no more than once or twice before they present it to an audience. It is no wonder, then, that they lack confidence at the lectern and their delivery lacks dynamism. I recommend practicing aloud at least six times so you have full command of your speech content and how you want to deliver it.

The solution to the problem of under-rehearsing is to start before you feel 100 percent ready. Here are three reasons why you should take the uncomfortable leap to practice your next speech aloud when the content is only at 85 percent.

  1. A great script doesn’t guarantee presentation success

A speech is not an essay. So, you can’t wordsmith your way to public-speaking success. Choosing the right words is important, but it is only half of what goes into a successful speech. Delivery is equally important. Great presentations come at the intersection of compelling content and compelling delivery.

Some speakers can share scripted content in a compelling way with practice. For others, having a detailed outline that is well rehearsed allows for a more conversational tone and confident delivery. Either way, thorough practice is necessary. In order to get your six or more rehearsals in, you have to limit fine tuning your text and / or slides and turn your attention to rehearsing in the week or so leading up to your presentation.

  1. Content improves as you practice

The good news about starting to rehearse when the content of a speech is at 85 percent is that your material will get better as you rehearse. As you say it out loud, you’ll recognize points at which your tone is too formal or you stumble over specific words. You’ll notice if the flow of topics isn’t logical or transitions are unclear. You’ll add an anecdote you forgot to include in your notes. You’ll realize that you need to find the source of a fact you mentioned. You’ll know if you have too much or too little material for your time constraints. And, you are likely to think of an interesting visual to incorporate that would make a point easier to understand. You’ll never get to 100 percent on content – after all, there’s no such thing as a perfect speech. But, you will refine and improve your content as you rehearse it. Practice makes perfect is a cliché for a reason.

  1. It takes time to get confident delivering your material

A thoroughly crafted and rehearsed presentation will always go over better than a “perfect” script with an unsure delivery. Susan Trivers, an expert on both presentation skills and business growth, recommends that speakers spend 40 percent of the time they have allotted to prepare for a speech on the content and 60 percent on practicing and rehearsing it. I fully agree with her “40-60 Rule.”

Most speakers are surprised, if not shocked, by this ratio. Of those I work with, most say they typically would spend 80-90 percent of preparation time on crafting the speech and just 10-20 percent on rehearsing. After switching to a 40-60 ratio of writing to rehearsing, speakers can reasonably get in their six or more rehearsals. They report feeling significantly less nervous and more confident when they are presenting.

There’s no shortcut to a great presentation. It takes time to get comfortable with the content and delivery of a speech. Remember to start saying it out loud when you feel about 85 percent ready with your material, ideally about a week before the date of your presentation. Practicing your speech out loud at least six times will allow you to have firm command of your material, and also the room!