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Saying It Out Loud

Inside of your head is a very different place than the inside of a conference room. One is a jungle of neurons and squirting synapses, with all kinds of exposed wiring, prone to new ideas—an enchanting place where language and insights bio-electrically merge. The latter may have coffee and a tray of Danish, and must often be booked 24 hours in advance.

Most people practice their presentations within the silent confines of their heads, speaking to themselves in that quiet inner-voice that no mortal can hear, mistakenly thinking that the presentation playing inside their cranial-space is identical to the one they intend their audience to hear in Conference Room B.

People generally do not like to rehearse aloud, because delivering it once during the actual prime-time presentation seems to be enough to ask. Some people are also a little self-conscience about talking in a normal voice to themselves. But unless you do, you will sadly discover (in real time) that while the slides and narrative may be the same, the presentation you later give you will be bewilderingly different.

It goes without saying that you must rehearse. Some people think they do not need to, and their first rehearsal, prone to all manner of mistakes, fumbles, and regrets, is in front of their audience of decision makers.

But as important as rehearsing, is rehearing out loud. It must be done. You need to hear, and by “hear” I mean “hear,” exactly what the audience will. Our brain, as efficient and trustworthy as it tries to convince us it is, does not follow a real-time clock, has no interest in punctuation, and will ignore things that our more attentive ears will pick up.

If you do not mouth each word, you may find that the fifteen-minute presentation that took fifteen minutes to rattle off in your head is only halfway through at the 20 minute mark of your meeting.

Saying words aloud will also give you a better idea of pacing, transitions, and emphasis, as well as giving you a heads-up on a phrase that you might wish you hadn’t used.

If you can close your door or run off to an empty conference room or janitor’s closet to practice, mutter quietly there. If you are in a cubicle, you may appear psychotic if mumbling aloud, but weigh the short-term puzzled looks of passersby against the long-term career-enhancing-or-destructive value of your talk.

If you cannot find a private space or if you need to rehearse in a crowded space, the next best thing is emitting no sound, but clearly moving your lips, because your lips (being one of the more laid-back organs) will be more likely to flap at the same cadence as real presentation, where presumably your lips will also move.

If you are forced to practice at a Starbucks or on an airplane, people will wonder why you are murmuring to yourself, which may be less disconcerting to them at a Starbucks than on an airplane. In rare cases, people on a flight may just assume you are afraid of flying, and are not averse to public prayer.

In a communal space, attach a Bluetooth thingee to your ear, or maybe one of those wired cell phone devices that hangs from the side of your head and has a tiny microphone that you can hold to your face. People will think you to be a self-important fool, but at least not delusional.

Another good bet is rehearsing in front of someone else, perhaps a colleague, or better still, a person who works for you since he or she will have no choice but to seem enthusiastically focused.

If you can enlist no one, consider delivering in front of your Labrador retriever. A tape recorder or video camera can also be extremely valuable, so you can see and hear yourself in the third person, just as your audience does, and you will notice those quirky mannerisms that everyone else talks about behind your back, but no one has the courage to mention.

© Copyright 2010. Chuck Goldstone. All Rights Reserved