Rehearse Like an Actor: What Executive Presenters Can Learn from the world of theater
Stages to move through to be well-prepared for every high stakes presentations.
1. Script read through
2. Run – throughs
3. Tops and Tails
5. Dress rehearsal
One of the most common excuses that executives use before they deliver presentations is that they didn’t have enough time to prepare. Picture this scene. The board of directors are filling up the meeting room before the annual strategy review session. The financial director walks up to the front of the room, plays with some pieces of paper, coughs, looks down and then says he doesn’t think he is prepared for the presentation.
No doubt you have seen variations of this presentation opening. What impact does this have on his credibility? It immediately sows seeds of doubt in the minds of senior managers. Perhaps, after all, this director is not capable of higher positions.
Business presenters often spend hours preparing PowerPoint slides only to deliver a low-energy dull presentation in front of the people who will be deciding their promotion prospects later in the day. While you don’t have to become an actor to be a good presenter, you can certainly learn from the stages that each actor goes through to be totally ready.
Stage 1: Script read through
At the start of rehearsals, actors read through their scripts, first alone, and then with the other actors. Script mastery is just the first step in their performance preparation. Most business presenters struggle to complete even this stage, often unable to express coherently what their talk is all about. Every presentation must have a clear overall message with content clearly separated into distinctly different ideas. An opening that sets the context and engages the audiences by addressing their most pressing concerns. A body that divides the content into separate sections or to use a theater word “scenes”. A closing that brings all the content together into a clear outcome, reinforces the overall message and moves the audience into the next part of the meeting, often the question and answer session. An important tip to remember is that at this stage the outline does not need to be perfect. There is still opportunity to modify during the next steps. This stage is ideally done with pen and paper. It should take you no longer than 30 minutes to outline your talk.
Stage 2: Run – throughs
With an outline in hand it’s time to have a run through. This should be rehearsed until the content is memorized. Find blocks of rehearsal time. Instead of going to a restaurant at lunch, grab a sandwich and take a walk in the park. While walking around, talk through the presentation without looking at notes. Speak it out while driving into work, or book a meeting room to practice the delivery. The key here is that it should be spoken aloud as new ideas will arise while the delivery becomes smoother. Don’t use a computer or any slides at this point. The aim is to be 100% comfortable with the flow and content. Modify your outline as ideas come up. Add supporting points, rearrange sections. You should be able to stand up and deliver a speech without looking at any notes or without any supporting visuals. This stage might take a day for familiar material or up to a week for a high stakes meeting. This is the stage where you build up your confidence.
Stage 3: Tops and Tails
The two most important parts of a presentation are the opening and closing. Both parts attract the greatest audience attention and are the best opportunities to deliver a takeaway message. They are often delivered with a higher level of authority and punch. Take the opening two minutes and rehearse it as a stand-alone section. Record it and while listening to the recording, look for ways to make the delivery more impactful. Use crisper and sharper words. Make a closer connection to the audience with words they relate with. Likewise, repeat this approach with the closing. This is the final chance to convey the message and leave the audience with a positive impression. The opening and closing sections can be scripted word-for-word for very important talks, however, never read from notes. It lessens your impact. This stage should only take around 30 minutes because by this stage you are very familiar with your content and message.
Stage 4: Cue-to-Cue
The biggest stress is often caused by projectors so always plan a technology check for all your presentations. For smaller conference room presentations, go at least a couple of hours before to connect your computer to the projector, test the sound and video and ensure the mouse clicker works. For larger settings, arrive the day before and work with technicians in the venue. Spend time on the stage and walk around planning where to start, how to move on the stage and where to finish. Rehearse a couple of sections of the presentation with a microphone to hear what volume is needed to fill the room. Once you are set-up do your best not to move anything.
Stage 5: Dress rehearsal
This covers your on the day preparation. Regardless of what time the presentation is due to start, schedule a time for a dress rehearsal. Rehearse in the same room if possible using all the technology planned and microphones needed. You will speak the entire presenation aloud word-for word. This final run through boosts confidence for the live version. The second delivery of the day will be smoother and you will appear more natural.
90% of the executives I work with don’t know how to rehearse adequately. They waste time on inconsequential parts of the presentation while ignoring their personal impact. By going through these five stage of preparation you will feel more confident and be more relaxed to deliver a powerful presentation that influences your audience.
Do you or your team need help? We work with executives on the “how tos” of more natural and influential business presenting. Feel free to contact us at any time to learn about the step-by-step approach we have taught thousands of executives around Asia.