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The red zone of public speaking preparation

3 min read


In football, the success of your offense often depends on what happens when you’re in the red zone — those last 20 yards to the goal line and in for the touchdown. The same dynamic applies to speaking.

No matter how well you have prepared, what happens in the red zone — the 24 to 36 hours before you speak — will determine your success. Taking advantage of the intangible pressure that comes when your presentation is near and addressing on-site details should be the “play” that sets you up to score.

The following tips can ensure that you’re prepared and as focused as possible when it finally comes time to suit up for the big game:

  • Make time for on-site stage rehearsal. Although you rehearsed before arriving at the venue, rehearsing on stage is just as essential. The setup of the stage, the way your voice sounds on microphone and the technology that will be used should all be familiar before you step up to present to your audience.  Be sure to schedule this rehearsal time to ensure the availability of the room, equipment and production team.
  • Rehearse your entrance and exit. There is usually a plan for entering and exiting the stage, and you should be sure you know what to expect. This seemingly simple step has tripped up many an unprepared presenter. Consider how you will enter and exit the stage — then make sure you actually do it.
  • Practice your introduction. Depending on how the event is organized, you may be introduced by another speaker or by the “Voice of God” (aka VOG) over the audio system. Not knowing how you’re going to be introduced can lead to a shaky start, especially if the person introducing you says something you’re not expecting or if they haven’t practiced it themselves.
  • Wear your shoes. It’s common to wear a new pair of shoes to a presentation, but this can be a mistake if the shoes turn out to be uncomfortable and not broken in — whether old or new, wear your “presentation” shoes to the rehearsal. In addition, women, if you’re wearing heels, make sure you’re comfortable navigating stairs or carpets.
  • Practice your positioning. Get to know the room or stage so you are comfortable with the space. If you’ll be sitting, as can occur in a panel, make sure you practice getting in and out of whatever type of seat is provided. For example, high barstools can be awkward for shorter people or women in skirts; knowing the seating in advance can give you time to practice and plan your wardrobe accordingly.

These last-minute offensive strategies can only be played out on site, and they’re surprisingly essential to boosting your confidence. Make time to take care of these “red zone” details and you’ll be primed and ready to win the game!

Do you have any special habits or rituals to prepare for a big presentation? Share in the comments.

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 and