Although there are significant differences between giving a business presentation and performing as an actor, there is one huge similarity: rehearsal is the key to success. While this might seem obvious to you now, it’s easy to put off rehearsal as more immediate concerns demand your attention. But you simply can’t expect to give a powerhouse presentation when you haven’t rehearsed sufficiently.
So, let’s consider smart lessons learned from an acting workshop and how to adapt these to create a concrete process for rehearsing your next presentation, sales pitch or speech.
Lessons from the Rememborize workshop
The idea for this article came about when I attended Jerry Sipp’s Rememborize workshop. Jerry is a talented actor and director. He designed his Rememborize method for actors to help them more quickly and accurately memorize their lines. While memorization is a requirement for actors, there’s no need and no benefit to memorizing a business presentation.
What piqued my interest about Sipp’s method is how he describes the endgame for workshop participants: actors need to memorize their lines so they are “free to become their characters on stage.” The goal for Sipp’s actors is precision in knowing the script so they can inhabit another world and perform without getting hung up on their lines.
Achieving such precision obviously takes months of memorization and rehearsal time. Sipp shared some surprising statistics during the workshop: One minute of speaking time takes about 60 minutes of rehearsal time, and if the script is a musical, it can take 100 minutes to get one minute of script up to a director’s standards.
So what is the lesson here for speakers giving business presentations? According to Sipp, the component of Rememborize that business leaders can most easily adapt to the business world is figuring out how to make your business presentation your own.
“You get to decide how much of your presentation you want to know cold, how much can be impromptu, and how best to marry the two,” says Jerry. But how?
3 soft skills for achieving hard results
Unlike the acting world, in the business world you don’t have months to devote to memorizing a speech. The endgame for giving a business presentation is also different. Instead of becoming a character on stage, your goal is to express authenticity and connect with your audience. To do this, you will want to develop some important soft skills.
As you’re rehearsing, use the following three soft skills to guide you:
1. Say it out loud from the beginning. Even after you have completely outlined your presentation, created your talk notes, and finished your slide deck, you are only about 70% prepared to stand and deliver. The first few times you practice out loud, you’re most likely reading for flow and not thinking about delivery.
You’re asking yourself questions like:
- Are there any gaps in my content?
- Does this idea flow from the preceding one?
- Are the words capturing the message I want to convey?
It’s important to practice out loud as early in your rehearsal process as possible. This will help you become more comfortable with the content and get you thinking about what your audience will be hearing. Remember: Connecting with the audience is your endgame.
2. Make it your own. Aside from connecting with the audience, you want to connect with your message. This means really taking ownership of your presentation and realizing your audience wants to hear your take on the topic. Don’t be afraid to mark-up your script with cues that will remind you to relax, slow down and emphasize your unique message. If you have any catchphrases or fresh examples that are appropriate for your talk and your audience, toss them in where they make sense.
One situation where it can be especially challenging to be authentic is when you’re giving a speech you have memorized. For example, if you go to a trade show, you may repeatedly give the same sales pitch to several potential customers over the course of a weekend. Sipp has some great advice here as well.
"Once you have a speech memorized, throw away the ‘script’ and practice it differently each time,” he says. This will help to get rid of that canned, robotic tone and make the speech sound spontaneous in the moment.
3. Work on your platform skills
In addition to rehearsing the content of your business presentation, you will want to practice the physical delivery itself (actors call this blocking, i.e., moving around the presentation space deliberately). Practice in a setting that is as close to the actual presentation situation as possible. If you know you’ll be delivering in an auditorium, for instance, try to find a big venue in which to practice.
It’s important to practice thinking, hearing, and expressing yourself (both verbally and non-verbally) under real conditions so you feel comfortable with any distractions that could arise. Plenty of actors know their lines until they get distracted, Sipp says. So, “when you feel like you’re 100% ready to give your presentation, put yourself in the most distracting place you can think of, to test yourself.”
Where are some good places to rehearse? Sipp suggests:
- In public places, like a park or at the mall
- Inside your home with the TV on, someone talking in the other room, or put in your ear phones with talk radio playing
- While you’re driving, but please be careful
- Even the distraction of practicing in a different environment, while jogging, biking, walking, can give your brain the feeling of multitasking
Sure, you might feel kind of odd rehearsing in some of these places but imagine how much more relaxed you’ll feel when you get to your talk venue. As you practice, remember to make specific notes about your platform skills (e.g., move to center stage here, gesture here, point to the slide here).
I always caution speakers about thinking of a business presentation as a performance. Giving a presentation is about intention, not precision. It’s about connecting in an authentic way, not becoming a character or winning an academy award. Still, there is much we can learn from our thespian friends about rehearsing and mastering the soft skills that yield hard results when giving a high-stakes presentation.
Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at ProfessionallySpeaking.net and ProfessionallySpeakingBlog.com.