How many times should you practise a presentation?
We all know you need to practice before you present. But when it really matters, and your job could be on the line, what is the ideal number? Is it 5, 10 or 20 times? I was working with a large law firm who had been asked to make a presentation to a bank which was reviewing their legal advice situation. It was work worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to the law firm. The managing partner engaged me to coach all of their professional staff to reframe their mindset about marketing. As lawyers, it was the law they liked working with, not marketing. But marketing was now front and centre of their entire practice – like it or not. Four of the partners were selected to do the joint presentation, not necessarily their most senior people. They chose the people who were able to present confidently and persuasively because this presentation really mattered. Needless to say, some very senior people had their legal noses put out of joint when they were not asked to be part of the team. Their task was essentially to do a pitch to the bank. Because this presentation was potentially make or break for the firm, they agreed that significant time was needed to spend on preparation. They developed a great presentation but then realised they could not possibly deliver it well without a lot of practice. The firm was committed to making this presentation blow the banking client out of the water and leave them in no doubt as to who should receive their legal work. The team of four practised individually, then to an empty room. They did that about 20 times. Then, each lunchtime a different set of staff was rostered to be “the audience”. The team gave the entire presentation to the rostered audience every day for about 3 weeks – that’s 15 times. So the whole presentation was done 35 times overall. When I tell this story, some people say that is just too many, where did they get the time? The answer lay in the importance of the presentation, as the success was crucial for a significant number of people in the firm. It had to be excellent, not just good. The important element to consider is that the presentation had to be engaging, sound genuine and not sound scripted. And so, like actors, the four presenters had to not only know their material, but they had to practise it so it did NOT sound like a script. That’s the power of multiple rehearsals – just like an actor. I don’t think very many people would rehearse 35 times. But in my experience, people make two mistakes.
- They rehearse by reading only, not speaking aloud. That’s like practising a golf swing by reading a book about it.
- They only rehearse once or twice.