In a Nutshell:
- Break your presentation down into small, manageable chunks.
- Practice the first chunk until you can do it perfectly, with no notes. Stick with that chunk until you can do it perfectly 3 times in a row.
- Each time you master a chunk, combine it with the preceding chunk(s) and practice until you can do it all perfectly 3 times in a row.
A Fool-Proof Way to Practice Your Presentation
Suppose you have a crucially important presentation coming up. This is not a presentation where you can just follow a general outline, improvise as you go along and kinda sorta get your point across. It has to be razor sharp. Every second, every word, every gesture counts. You have to nail it. You’ve painstakingly written and re-written your script. Now it’s time to rehearse. How do you go about it?
Do you sit quietly, reading your presentation over and over? Do you stand up and practice out loud, bumbling through it from start to finish, checking your script every time you go blank? There is a better way.
In his book, The Little Book of Talent, Daniel Coyle shares the story of a thirteen year old clarinet player who discovered how she could practice for maximum progress.
“Clarissa was an average musician, in every sense of the word – average ability, average practice habits, average motivation. But one morning, a remarkable thing happened: Clarissa accomplished a month’s worth of practice in five minutes.
Here’s what it looked like: Clarissa played a few notes. Then she made a mistake and immediately froze, as if the clarinet were electrified. She peered closely at the sheet music, reading the notes. She hummed the notes to herself. She fingered the keys in a fast, silent rehearsal. Then she started again, got a bit farther, made another mistake, stopped again, and went back to the start. In this fashion, working instinctively, she learned […] more in that span of five minutes than she would have learned in an entire month practicing her normal way, in which she played songs straight through, ignoring any mistakes.”
This is how I’ve always intuitively gone about learning my lines. I’ll practice just one or two sentences until perfect. Then one or two more. Then I put them together and practice the bigger chunk until perfect. Eventually, I master the introduction. Then I move on to the first section of the body and repeat the process. Before moving on to the next section, I practice the whole thing from the top. Whether I’m practicing a sentence, a paragraph, a section or everything I’ve covered from the beginning, I don’t move on until I can nail it three times in a row.
To me, this method of rehearsal resembles a “Suicide” running drill – an old-school conditioning exercise commonly used by basketball players and other athletes.
Each start takes you back to the baseline to cover the same ground again before going further. So the ground you cover the most is nearest your baseline.
The part of your presentation that you rehearse the most is your opening. Rehearsing your opening to the point where you can deliver it on autopilot will help you manage your nerves and get settled into your presentation. It also gives you the momentum to easily recall and deliver the rest of your presentation. Think of how we sing along to our favourite songs. It’s hard to skip straight to the middle verse – it’s much easier when we start from the top.
Try Suicide Rehearsal for Yourself
Next time you have a script to internalise, practice like this:
- Divide your script into sections; Divide those sections into chunks; Divide those chunks into soundbites
- Practice the first soundbite until you nail it. Then nail it three more times. If you falter at any moment, do yourself a favour: stop, review, refocus and try again. Stick with that soundbite until you can do it perfectly three times in a row. Only then can you move on to the next soundbite
- Each time you master a soundbite, merge it with the previous soundbites in that chunk and practice them together. Each time you master a chunk, merge it with the previous chunks in that section and practice them together. Each time you master a section, merge it with the previous sections of your speech and take it from the top!
This may feel tedious at first. But trust me, you will soon gain momentum and confidence. Besides, you can always mark the point you’re up to and come back to it later. Which brings us to one last question.
Do I have to master my whole presentation in one session?
If you wanted to improve your tennis serve, would you practice once a week until you could barely lift your arm? Or would you practice as often as possible, focusing on quality rather than quantity? It’s the same for rehearsal. Get as much quality practice as possible while staying as fresh as possible. Practice. Sleep. Repeat.
What do you think?
Try the Suicide Rehearsal Method and share your experience in the comments below. Do you have any rehearsal tips of your own? Please share!