Rehearsing a Technical Presentation

Christopher Witt —  June 18, 2012

Rehearsals — especially for technical presentations — make all the difference. In my opinion, you shouldn’t say anything to an audience that you haven’t said out loud in rehearsal.

Everyone should rehearse. But the real question is how. How do you rehearse a technical presentation so that you’re as clear and confident as possible?

Many of my clients — most, as a matter of fact — are senior-level technical experts: engineers, researchers, programmers and the like. And with a little help they become very good presenters.

To Rehearse a Technical Presentation

Try these ten techniques:

  1. Know what you’re talking about.
    If you don’t know what you’re talking about, you should be nervous. It’s your body’s way of telling you not to do it again. You’ll only be confident — you only have the right to be confident — when you know your subject matter well enough to handle any question that comes your way
  2. Make it your own.
    Presenting other people’s material, especially their slides, is a prescription for failure. The best way to rehearse a presentation is to create it in the first place. When you take over someone else’s presentation, you don’t save yourself any time. You still have to delve into their material and figure out what it means and why it’s put together the way it is.
  3. Understand how you’re going to talk about it.
    Most presenters get tripped up because they haven’t logically constructed their presentation. It doesn’t make sense to them. (This is one of the problems of using PowerPoint: you can create countless slides and string them together without having to figure out how one leads into another.) You should be able to explain the order of your slides without having to refer to them.
  4. Stand up and talk it out loud.
    You can practice by yourself or with someone else, but you have to do it aloud. Things sometimes make sense when we think about them, but they can fall apart when we try to say them. So force yourself to say them.
  5. Walk around and talk it out loud.
    Moving around will help you remember what you want to say. Don’t ask me why. I just know it works.
  6. Change it — slightly — every time.
    Don’t try to memorize your presentation word for word. Try, instead, to explain the concepts in your own words, saying it differently each time. That way, if your mind freezes up during the presentation and you can’t remember exactly what you wanted to say, you can still remember the main idea and several different ways to explain it.
  7. Use your typical gestures, but make them bigger.
    Don’t plan out your gestures in advance. You’ll just look staged. And you’ll feel fake. As you get comfortable and confident, your natural gestures will come out. Use them. Just make them bigger.
  8. Speak louder.
    Raising your volume is the simplest way to inject energy into your voice (and your body). It’s almost impossible to sound monotonous or flat when you’re speaking loud.
  9. Don’t give a presentation: explain.
    One of the easiest ways to freak yourself out is to say, “I have to give a presentation!” So don’t give one. Or, at least, don’t tell yourself that you’re giving one. Think instead of explaining your ideas to people who can benefit from them. You do that all the time…without stressing over it.
  10. Change your expectations.
    Don’t imitate other people’s presentation styles. If you’re an engineer, you’re not going to sound like someone from sales. And you shouldn’t try. Don’t expect yourself to be smooth, dramatic, and dynamic. Figure out how to be the best presenter you can be. Focus on being clear, excited, and concerned about your audience.

Pick one thing. Give it a try and see how it works for you.

What would you add to my list?

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.