Speakers: Rehearsals Help

Today was a rehearsal day. Actually the last 2-3 days of work have been split between rehearsing talks that I’m giving at SQL in the City this week, and handling the other daily work I need to do. With an extra load of family chores this week, I’ve had some long days.

I have quite a load this Friday as I have 4 talks to give.

  • One I’ve given 10 or 15 times, and I just need to review.
  • One I gave earlier this year, but it’s been rewritten with about half new content.
  • One is brand new, never delivered
  • One is a joint presentation, of which I have few parts, but I do need to be ready for those parts.

When I work on presentations, I go through the deck, build demos, practice things, maybe go back and forth a few times as I find the flow between the items is not smooth. By the time I’m ready for a full hour practice, I’ve usually been through all demos and the slides a dozen or so times.

The Whole Enchilada

However going through everything in one shot is important. Your timing matters, and your smoothness in transitioning between talking, demos, and even the various elements you deal with on the screen. When I see a presenter struggle to find a setting or a button on the screen, I’m think they haven’t practiced enough, especially the whole talk.

It’s very easy to work on parts of the talk, maybe even all parts, separately and assume you can pull them together. When you do this, however, you tend to gloss over mistakes and tell yourself that you’ll fix things the next time. At some point the next time is the actual presentation to an audience, and that’s not the right time to deliver the entire talk the first time.

I usually set aside an hour, and actually go through the talk from end to end. I may do this silently, running through the words I want to use in my head so that my family doesn’t think I’ve gone insane, talking to myself. I’ve learned if that’s the case, I’m usually talking 15-20% faster than if I actually had to voice the words. It’s quicker to practice this way, and I’ll do this a few times. I even do this on airplanes when I’m traveling to events.

However there’s nothing quite like delivering the talk out loud, in real time. I usually do this by myself, with the door closed so as not to frighten the children with my arm waving and pacing. I open my mobile phone’s stopwatch application, start it, and keep an eye on it as I run through the slides, talk, and demos in real time.

A Sigh of Relief

Today was a full practice day for 2 talks, but with a twist. One of those, the brand new talk, was one I had to give on a conference call to a few people at Red Gate. This was partially to let the project managers know what I was demoing, but also as a backup in case something happened and I wasn’t able to deliver the talk.

After about 20 minutes of Livemeeting issues, I finally was online and ready to go. I was short of time, so I ended up going through the synopsis of each slide, and then running through most of the demos, skipping a few items where my virtual machine was acting up. It wasn’t the best run-through, but it was complete.

When I was done, it was nice to hear the people on the other end complement the talk and content. It’s always a little worrisome for me with a new talk, since I’m never sure how well people might receive the content. A sigh of relief today that people liked the talks.


One of the things I did recently to practice a talk was to record myself. Using Camtasia, I delivered the entire talk to myself, recording the session. I was able to review it later, look for spots where the content did not flow together, as well as speaking issues (um, err, etc).

I found that to be very helpful in terms of delivering a better talk, and building confidence in the material. I found that after recording myself, reviewing the talk, and incorporating my own critique into the talk, it went much smoother than expected in front of a live audience.


If you plan on delivering a talk, practice it beforehand. The whole talk, in real time. It will help you prepare and you will be surprised how much it might reduce your anxiety.

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2 Responses to Speakers: Rehearsals Help

  1. Good blog. I know the feeling when practicing out loud and the family comes looking around the corner to find out what’s going on. My step-daughter keeps telling people I talk to myself.

    I noticed that to with some presenters where they stumble, and that tells me I need to practice before a presentation no matter where it is.

    I heard someone say recently that they have changed the saying “Practice Make Perfect” to “Practice Makes Progress” I like that change.



  2. Ryk McDorman says:

    I don’t deliver talks nearly as often as you do, Steve, but it’s nice to see that we have the same routine. I go over subjects individually, then string them together and work on introductions, transitions, conclusions, etc. — always ending with at least a couple of real-time run-throughs. I can’t imagine feeling confident without doing so.


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