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The Importance of Rehearsal


By Kelly Vandever

Toastmasters Speech Contests

I was once obsessed with Toastmasters speech contests. I have the picture to prove it!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Toastmasters, it’s a non-profit organization formed at the local level into clubs, and people have the opportunity to grow their public speaking skills.

Twice a year, there are speech contests which start at the club level, followed by additional levels. Those who win at the club go on to compete against winners from other clubs in their area. Then the winners in an area compete at the next level which is called division, and so on.

Early on in my speech contest obsession I learned an important lesson about rehearsal.

The Contest

It was an international speech contest, which is like a motivational type speech. It was the contest at the area level, just after winning at my club. It was me and two other people. I went first.

I went first and I nailed it! I delivered the contest speech just the way I’d rehearsed it. I was very pleased with how I’d done.

Next came the second contestant, the only gentleman in the contest. He gave a good speech. But mine was better!

As the third speaker was taking the stage, I thought in my obsessed little mind, “If she’s not very good, I could win this thing!”

And then she gave her speech. And it was magnificent. I loved it. Her speech was original. It was moving. It was personal. Sure, she was visibly nervous and she stumbled over her words a few times. But what she had to say was just wonderful. I thought to myself, there is no shame in losing to that speech.

The judges tabulated their scores. The vote counters computed the totals.  And they announced the winner.

I had won.

I’d won.

I am convinced that I won that day, not because I had a better speech. But because I was better prepared.

The Preparation Process

The are several tried and true ways to best prepare for an important speech or presentation. Here are my 3 best tips.

Rehearse in the Same Manner in Which You’ll Deliver Your Presentation

Stand up. Say the words out loud. Use your clicker to click through your slides.

If you’re delivering an online presentation, practice with the software. Click from screen to screen. Practice publishing the polls. Rehearse sitting down and saying the words out loud.

By practicing in the same manner that you’re going to deliver, you’ll benefit from the muscle memory of your body. Just like riding a bike or doing the hokey pokey, it comes back to you more easily and will make you more comfortable when it’s time to deliver your presentation

Record Yourself

The camera doesn’t lie. It can’t.

Record yourself, and then, here’s the key, actually watch what you’ve recorded!!

As you watch…

  • Look for physical quirks that could be distracting to your audience and work to correct them.
  • Listen for verbal ticks – ums, ahs, excessive use of conjunctions like “and” or “so,” crutch phrases that sneak into our language such as “like,” “you know,” “I mean,” “things like that,” or any phrase or words that you repeat over and over again. Instead of saying those sounds or phrases, try pausing, then go immediately to your next sentence.
  • Ask yourself, “How’d I do?” Chances are, you’re harder on yourself than the audience will be. Give yourself some credit. See that you probably did pretty good and can now go and tweak what needs to be changed.

Rehearse in Front of a Friendly Audience

Ask family, friends, and work colleagues to help you by listening to you rehearse. The camera won’t hide anything from you. But it can’t tell you if you didn’t make sense.

So ask your friendly audience to look for…

  • Physical quirks
  • Verbal ticks
  • Does the presentation make sense? What was confusing? What do you need to know to understand better?
  • What recommendations do you have? If they have ears and eyes, they may have some ideas that would help improve your presentation. You may not accept them all, but there may also be a gem buried in there that you can use

When You Need “Professional” Help

Above are my best pieces of advice for most people. But if …

  • Your presentation is super important
  • You’re pressed for time to prepare for the presentation
  • You need an objective opinion or an outsider’s view point

…. then also consider hiring a presentation coach.

We have great people on our team who can help you make sure that you get that important presentation done even better than you could imagine!

No Shame, No Guilt

After winning that early contest, I felt a little guilty. She had a better speech. But I’d won.

But life is like that. People with the best products don’t always win the deal if they’re not prepared. People with the best ideas don’t always persuade if they don’t prepare their pitch and practice their delivery. And people don’t always win speech contest even with a better speech, if they’re not prepared.

So if you thinking about skipping the rehearsal because it’s hard, or you don’t like watching yourself on video or you don’t have time. Remember that wonderful speaker who didn’t win. Push yourself. It’s Important. Rehearse.


Kelly Vandever is a leadership and communications expert who helps leaders and organizations thrive in today’s attention-deficit, entertain-me-now, wait-while-I-post-that-on-Facebook world. Learn how opening up and speaking practically can bring you better business results. Connect Kelly by phone at 770-597-1108, email her at Kelly.Vandever @ SpeakingPractically.com or tweet her @KellyVandever.