I’m guessing that most of us have pretty much completed preparations for our Grace Hopper presentations, right? For myself, I have thought a lot about my audience and I’ve made decisions about how much I will be able to say -- and say well -- in the hour that I have been allotted. What now? My presentation is on Friday. I’m done, right? Well --- now it’s time to practice.
There are two fundamental ways to practice: 1) silently and 2) aloud. The first way involves a review of your presentation in your own head. We all do this a lot before we present because it helps us feel comfortable with our story and because we think that we will be less likely to forget what we want to say if we go over and over things in our minds. It is easy to practice this way because we can give ourselves a silent presentation anywhere and anytime.
The second way of practicing asks more of us and leads to different results. I will be very direct here -- I believe that you must practice your talk aloud in order to deliver an authentic and well-paced presentation. And you must practice in a way that simulates the context in which you will speak. (It would probably be ideal if we could all practice giving our talks to a real audience in a real meeting room, but most of us are not that lucky. No worries -- make a commitment to practicing aloud and know that you are preparing yourself for a great result.)
Find a space where you can set up your laptop and project your visuals. I have practiced this way in my living room where the visuals are projected on the wall; and I have practiced this way in a hotel room. Even if you are not able to project the visuals during your rehearsal, you can set up your laptop and use it in the same way that you will use it during your talk. Being comfortable with the physical things you will do during your presentation is very important -- almost as important as being familiar with your story.
Practice introducing yourself and getting into the talk; practice moving around; practice your gestures; practice with the laser pointer if you will use one; figure out when to advance to a new visual and practice the verbal transitions; see how it feels to look around to all parts of the room; play with volume and speed. Also be sure that you time yourself during your rehearsals so that you know where you are and where you want to be during each section of your presentation.
In addition to practicing aloud in a “real” context, you can practice aloud to an invisible listener while riding your bicycle, while cooking, while in the shower. You will be able to hear the speed, the pauses, and the flow in a way that you cannot hear these details when the story is a silent one. Any time you speak aloud, even to yourself, you are incorporating the physical and sensory aspects of presenting, and you are preparing yourself for the real experience of transforming thoughts and ideas into a spoken story.
Have fun with your preparations and rehearsals. I will see you next week in Portland!