How much you practice is a matter of personal preference. We have probably all heard of the phrase 'over practiced' but this depends on you as a person. Here are a few thoughts from on how to get the most from preparation and practice.
1. Try to create a style for the presentation and agree with yourself what the underlying theme is that you want to deliver both in terms of the presentation and you as a person. For example, the presentation may convey some deep analysis and facts and your personal style may be one of 'trust me I understand what this means and what it doesn't mean'. The presentation may show targets and objectives and your personal style may be upbeat and motivational. They don't have to be different or conflicting and your slides and personal style maybe be 'chatty and engaging' or 'serious and telling'. Knowing your audience and how they may receive these styles is essential.
2. Be careful how many changes you make to your slides as you practice. It is very easy to start to make major structural changes or tinkering with words and phrases rather than practicing. Avoid making any changes unless they help with communicating the messages and unless you really think it will make a difference on the day. Practicing is about delivering the material you have not about creating new material.
3. Try to remember that often no one in the audience has heard the material before so some of the definitions, three letter acronyms and concepts will be new. You may have to explain them as you go and this takes time so think about whether you want to do this a little up front or use the words on slide to inform the audience rather than adding the explanation into your main narrative.
4. When you practice try to get as close as you can to the environment that you are likely to be in on the day. If you are presenting hard copies around a table then sit down to practice. If you will be in business or casual clothes wear these during the practice so that you know what you will feel like. If you will be standing at a lectern in a large hall then practice behind a chair in the largest room you can find. Better still of course is to practice at the venue itself.
5. Time yourself. But don't cheat and tell yourself it will be OK on the day. We have all said that. On the day we will deliver our presentation trying to be a bit slower or faster is very hard to achieve.
6. I have found that you need to take into account three differences between the time it takes to deliver the practice run and the time that you will take on the day. First, the time available for your presentation may be different (usually less) than the time that you believe you have allotted to you. This can be because the last speaker overran, someone needs a break before you need to start, the slide/packs need to be made ready, microphones changed or you receive a lengthy introduction. In each case this time usually be subtracted from the time that you have available so make some allowance. Second, you will deliver it differently on the day and it's best to know what your weaknesses are. Do you speak faster as the adrenaline starts to circulate? Hesitate and lose your flow requiring you to re-check your notes and pause a little? Go off on a tangent adding in new facts and anecdotes that were never part of your narrative? Or, miss out huge chunks of the storyline, your opening remarks or your thank you at the end? Which ever of the above tends to be your weakness, acknowledge it, try to use your practice sessions to improve your performance and make allowances with the time you have available. Third, questions. It is always difficult to know what will happen on the day. Will you be interrupted as you start your first sentence or will you be able to leave time at the end for questions. Try and find out before how questions will be handled and if no one knows see if you can steer the format before or on the day. Once again telling people how you will handle questions takes time so include your instructions to your audience in your practice runs.
7. It is always best to make sure you have enough time to make your presentation. There is nothing worse for confidence than to know that you have too much material and not enough time. Finishing early is not a weakness it will often be appreciated by the organisers, your audience and you. If there is meant to be time at the end for questions make sure there is and if you make your presentation compelling and thought provoking questions will come (or plant a couple!). What's more if the audience feel that they want to hear more they will contact you afterwards and ask for more - no one contacts you afterwards to ask for less, they just walk off a bit annoyed and frustrated at being a prisoner.
8. Practicing in front of friends, colleagues and family can be very helpful but there are a few pitfalls to be weary of. To start with it is likely that your practice partners will not be reflective of your audience. Ask yourself before you practice with them what you want from them. Just a bit confidence - 'Oh yes Richard your slides are brilliant and the audience can't fail to love your orange tie'. A critique or review of your storyline and narrative - be careful they may know more or less about the subject than your audience. Feedback on your delivery and presentation style - they will have their own style and may not know the context of your presentation. A good technique is to ask them what you want before you practice. How do I come across - happy, serious, upbeat, etc. Have you noticed any contradictions in the slides and what I say? Are there any errors in the slides such as capitals in the wrong place, spelling mistakes, punctuations, etc.
Get more tips and help and help from 'Three Things To Say'
And make sure you deliver a presentation that your audience will love.