As I was clicking rapidly through the hundreds of press releases I scan while looking for webinar news, a curious title caught my eye. It read “Effective Tips For Practicing Guitar Without Your Guitar In Your Hands Now Available.” Despite the somewhat awkward sentence construction, I was intrigued. How can you practice guitar without a guitar?
The gist was that you can do a lot with mental imagery and thinking about how to use musical foundations to improve your compositions and improvisations. The author says “I remember vividly using the 30-45 minute bus ride to and from school to think about what scales I could use to improvise over a song… or to think about the chords in a song I knew and try to analyze the progression mentally. In fact, I would even go so far as to come up with progressions in my head, and then try them out when I got home to see if they sounded the way I expected.”
Now you might argue that this is not so much practicing as studying or preparing. But practice is just a form of preparation, so why not include a wider range of activities in the definition?
I started thinking about how this concept could be applied to webinar presentations. As with guitar playing, there is no substitute for putting in the time actually performing a piece over and over until you can hit the right notes at the right time, adding emotional content and pacing to communicate with your audience. For us, that means speaking the presentation out loud from end to end, checking phrasing and timing.
But can we utilize downtime and quiet bus rides to think about additional aspects that will affect the success of our performance? Absolutely! Let’s examine just a few things you can do in addition to (NOT INSTEAD OF) reciting your presentation ahead of time:
1) Match Content to Promises
People come to a webinar because of promises you make (or promises that a marketer makes on your behalf). Promotional materials, invitations, even the title of the webinar promise specific things that will be on offer. Think through your content and your presentation flow. Are you delivering on the specific promises that were made? Are you satisfying at least one of the promises within the first three minutes of your presentation? Your contemplative time should help you practice how to quickly acknowledge and meet your audience’s expectations.
2) Communicate Why Information is Important/Interesting
As you impart data and facts to your audience, are you also helping them to assimilate, understand, and make use of the information? I hear technical and professional presenters overlook this aspect all the time. Don’t just recite factual information. Tell your audience why they should care about it, what it means to them personally or professionally, why it’s interesting and useful. People can get straight facts and data out of textbooks and white papers. They don’t need to listen to you recite the details. They need you to help them know which information is actually important and why. On your bus ride, review each piece of data you will present and make sure you have something to say about it.
3) Hide Your Script
As you look through your PowerPoint slides, ask yourself if they are supporting your talk or duplicating it. Are the slides acting as your personal teleprompter, helping you remember everything you want to say? Have you written complete sentences that you either read to your audience or silently leave for them to read to themselves? You should always have more to say than the slide text states. Your quiet practice time includes figuring out what you are going to say about each topic point, then just including a keyword or two on the slide that you can embellish vocally. Sentences become part of your presenter notes, part of your memorization practice, part of your “cheat sheet” outline that you will reference while speaking, part of the separate handout you will provide to attendees afterwards. Practice eliminating text from your slides and including it in your speech.
4) Visualize Questions and Answers
Use your quiet time to think about possible questions your audience members might ask. Determine how you will answer them in a succinct, authoritative fashion. Write down the questions for your moderator (or you) to use as “seed questions” if the live audience is slow to interact with you. Are there uncomfortable questions someone could ask… Pricing, competitive position, missing features? How will you deal with them if they come up? Practice your answers until they are smooth and confident.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Practice is no fun. It takes time, it’s frustrating, and there is no immediate gratification as when performing for an audience. But giving a good presentation is no different from performing on a guitar. The only way you get good at it is by practicing, both physically and mentally.
[Fun Fact: Pablo Casals at the age of 13 discovered Bach’s previously unknown unaccompanied cello suites in a second-hand sheet music store in Barcelona. He practiced them in secret every day until he felt ready to debut them in a public performance. That day came 13 years later, at age 26. He didn’t agree to record them until he was 59 years old. Now can’t you afford a few hours of practice?]