Once asked about how he prepared for a film role, Daniel Day-Lewis replied, “I don’t rehearse at all in film if I can help it. In talking a character through, you define it. And if you define it, you kill it dead.”
On the surface this may be interpreted as ‘Oscar winning actor doesn’t rehearse so why should I?’ However, anyone who knows anything about this Oscar winning actor will be aware that Mr Day-Lewis is the very personification of the technique known as method acting. He lives, sleeps and breathes his characters in a preparation process that can last for months.
So yes, he can get away without rehearsal. Those, however, who are not portraying the likes of President Lincoln in Lincoln, Christy Brown in My Left Foot and and Daniel Plainview in There Will be Blood but rather find themselves delivering deep analysis on the legality of agreements made by two or more parties where there is an exchange of some sort intended to take place to a niche audience of clients and peers cannot get away without rehearsal, that is, if they wish to deliver an effective presentation.
A successful delivery on stage is the result of many hours of preparation, and this will often include several renditions of the end speech, in various forms, as the speaker hones in on what works and what does not.
It’s not a glamorous process. Often these rehearsed speeches are delivered to inanimate objects – house plants are good listeners – but ideally to animate ones. An actual person who is able to give feedback is optimum here.
Yes you think you look silly, yes you get bored of the sound of your own voice and yes those around you might wonder at your soliloquising. But it is you who will have the last laugh.
1) Practice Makes Perfect
As with every cliché there is truth behind it. A written presentation is very different when spoken. That bit that really works on the page may well be a linguistic trip hazard on the stage; packed with too many syllables, misfiring alliteration and hidden layers of unintended confusion.
On the day, your delivery will be a key factor in the success of your presentation – when to pause for dramatic effect, when to raise your intonation to hammer home a point, when to slow down and fix your audience to emphasise a theme. Only by repeated practice will these subtle, but very necessary, tweaks become clear to you.
2) It’s a Question of Timing
An effective presentation has balance. It has a clearly measured beginning, middle and end. Crucially, that end will come at the prescribed finish time. If you’ve done your rehearsal you won’t even have to check the clock because you will know it ends on time. Note: Underestimating the amount of time your ‘set’ will take is one of the most common pitfalls to afflict our species since the invention of the microphone.
3) It’s Not a Question of Spontaneity
The speakers’ graveyard is littered with the carcasses of those who, often swept up with hubris, boldly pronounce that they don’t rehearse because that would remove any spark of spontaneity. Many will add for good measure, ‘besides, I’m always better speaking off the cuff.’ In my experience, you are statistically more likely to be mauled by a bear than be proved correct in this assumption (these odds differ if you are reading this in certain parts of Canada) and in any case, those who do ‘speak off the cuff’ tend to be the ones who have been at it for a good while and have developed their style and skill so they’ve already put in the hours.
4) More Slides, More Haste
Whenever you see a presenter skipping through several slides at once you can draw two conclusions: a) The speaker has probably not rehearsed their speech and has simply crammed in far more slides than is necessary; and b) The speaker has to cut their talk because the one before overran due to that speaker cramming in far too many slides which has resulted in a scheduling issue!
Rehearsing with slides will allow you to sort the wheat from the chaff so that each slide counts rather than hides. It also looks quite good when presenters can actually speak and ‘click’ simultaneously rather than giving the appearance of a toddler trying to grasp how a new toy works that is in reality more suitable for an older child.
5) Rehearsal Means Relaxed
Giving a presentation is a daunting occasion for many. Far less daunting if you have prepared for the occasion however. It is highly likely that during your rehearsals you won’t have had had a perfect run; you will have got confused, fluffed your lines, missed whole sections out, forgotten to change slides and lost and added minutes. However, cometh the hour, your rehearsal and practice will be the making of you.
All that repetition will have formed a brain muscle memory. On stage you will be delivering with an effortless ease and dreaming of your own Oscar-winning performance. And you don’t even have to get into character.