A lot of people will tell you to “practice, practice, practice” because “practice makes perfect.”
When it comes to presenting, this is some of the worst advice you can get or give.
Practicing a presentation cannot possibly lead to perfection.
Effective presentations are not speeches (which I suppose could be perfected). They are conversations. Conversations by their very nature are imperfect. They involve other people and are therefore unpredictable. They twist and turn. They stop and start. They go back on themselves. They jump forward.
You can’t predict any of that. Therefore, practicing a presentation until it is perfected is a foolish exercise.
The desire to be perfect and the pressure of other people telling you that you can be (should be) perfect puts the bar too high. And here’s what happens:
- You put too much energy into reaching the bar,
- which leads to nervousness,
- which disengages you,
- which puts you in your head trying to recreate the script you etched into your brain during practice,
- which leads to a dull, lifeless, uninspiring meeting.
It’s more than bad advice, though, it causes damage.
Strong words, I know. But I’ve worked with enough presenters to know that they drag around a lot of baggage from the bad advice and training they’ve received over the years. A lot of my job when coaching them is to undo the damage. I help people see things in a new way and I give them a new set of skills and techniques that will work uniquely for them.
If I were your coach
If we had the chance to work together, I’d start by asking you to redefine your next presentation as an Orderly Conversation. An Orderly Conversation is one that is carefully organized and flexibly executed.
When you think of presentations as Orderly Conversations, it changes how you think of (and use) your slides. They become thought starters that will trigger dialogue. They become support for the conversation rather than being the presentation. This new thinking will change the information you put on your slides and how you arrange it.
Let’s assume that your slides are complete and you feel that they will support the conversation you want to have. Now it’s time to review. Notice I said “review,” not practice. As you review your slides, look at each and grab a thought. That thought should launch the conversation you intended. If not, change it until it does.
As you think through each slide, avoid scripting yourself. Think of different ways of explaining each slide. Remember you’re not striving for perfection. You’re working toward flexibility.
Once the conversation begins, let loose and enjoy it. Trust that your slides will be there to support the conversation. Let it get a little messy, follow your listeners’ lead for a bit, bring it back around. You’ll be amazed at how much more fun presenting can be.