Practicing the Presentation

… a core concept in Communication Skills and Atlas 109

Practice-practiceConcept description

Rehearsal and practice can substantially improve the effectiveness of a presentation or speech.

Most people do not devote a sufficiently high a portion of the total preparation time for a presentation to rehearsing its delivery.

In a blog post and podcast, Fred Miller of No Sweat Public Speaking (reference below), asks:

Do you think great Olympic athletes just showed up for the game, match or meet? NO WAY!  … What about serious musicians, singers, and actors? Does anyone think they merely “show up” for the big concert, show, or play? NO WAY!?” … Why would anyone think they can “show up” for an event where they are scheduled to speak, and “wing it”?

He notes that in every case, to excel requires Practice – Practice – Practice.

In his article, How to Practice Your Presentation (reference below), Andrew Dlugan says that the claim that “practicing makes one robotic and it is better to just work from an outline” is hogwash, and that practicing your speech is essential.

Dlugan notes the following benefits from practicing your speech at least a couple of times:

  • Discover awkward phrases and tongue-twisters that you did not notice when writing and editing. Speaking the words out loud exposes flaws that reading does not.
  • Gauge your energy level. Does delivering this speech fire you up? Or are you bored with it?
  • Gauge your timing. Once you get more experienced, you will learn how many words can fit in a 10-minute time slot. Until then, however, practicing the complete speech is the best way to know if you are under or over time.
  • Reduce nervousness. Rehearsing even one time will improve your confidence in your material.
How to rehearse

Dlugan offers the following advice on how to practice a speech or presentation:

  • Re-create the speech setting. Try to duplicate the speech setting as much as you can.
    • Practice in the room where you’ll be speaking, if you can.
    • Stand up. You get more realistic voice projection.
    • Rehearse with props and visual aids.
    • Arrange an audience. Practicing with an audience is better than practicing without one… even if it is not your target audience.
    • Consider what you will wear when your speech will be delivered. Will it add complications? Inhibit gestures or movement in any way?
  • Take notes. Don’t hesitate to stop yourself in the middle of your rehearsal to jot down ideas as they come to you. Capture internal feelings immediately.
  • Experiment.  Try out different voices, gestures, or staging. This is especially important for your opening, conclusion, and any other key points. Give yourself confidence knowing that these lines will be delivered precisely as you intended.
  • Time yourself. You can easily do this yourself, but it helps if someone else can time you. Insert planned pauses, and insert delays when you expect laughter or some other audience response.
  • Use all that you learn to edit your speech and make it better.
Soliciting feedback

Dlugan underlines the value of practicing your speech in front of an audience that includes someone who will give you honest feedback. This helps you determine:

  • Is your humor drawing smiles and laughs or is it missing completely?
  • Are you keeping the audience’s attention throughout?
  • Are you receiving positive feedback in the form of nodding heads and smiles, or is a blank stare the most common expression?

In soliciting feedback, don’t ask “Did you like it?” but, rather, ask open-ended questions such as:

  • What was your favorite element in the speech? Why?
  • What would you like to see improved?
  • How can I improve my speech for next time?
Audio and video recordings

Dlugan describes the benefits from listening to an audio recording of a rehearsal:

  • Assess which phrases sound “good” and which are awkward to listen to.
  • Listen for um’s, ah’s, and other filler words.
  • Notice if and when you stumbled.
  • Time the overall speech (which would be easy to do with a watch), as well as individual segments of the speech (which you cannot do unless you stop and start numerous times).

And, with a video recording of yourself speaking, Dlugan notes that all your habits – both good and bad – are captured, so you can learn:

  • Are your gestures working?
  • Are your gestures synchronized well with your words?
  • Are your gestures varied, or are they monotonous?
  • Are you smiling?
  • Are you fidgeting, or displaying any other distracting mannerisms?
  • Does your body sway from side to side?
  • Eye contact is difficult to assess if the recording was made without a full audience, but you should be able to tell at least if your eyes are up, or down at your toes.
  • If you are using visual aids, are your transitions smooth?
  • If you are using a prop, was it handled smoothly?
Resources, The Importance of Rehearsing, at, accessed 2 February 2016.

Michael Hyatt, How to Improve your Public Speaking by Practicing Out Loud, at, accessed 2 February 2016.


Drawn from Fred Miller, 2012, No Sweat Public Speaking, at, accessed 2 February 2016; Andrew Dlugan, 2008, Speech Preparation #8: How to Practice Your Presentation, at, accessed 2 February 2016.

Normed topic and synthetic course with which the concept is primarily associated

This concept is primarily associated with the core normed topic Speaking to Persuade and is included in the synthetic course outline Atlas109 Leadership and Communication Skills.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 2 February 2016.

Image: Fred Miller, No Sweat Public Speaking, at, accessed 2 February 2016.