Last week I listened to a webinar covering tips for presenters. The speaker told the audience that you must rehearse your presentation out loud 7 or 8 times in order to be able to give a good live presentation. I shook my head in wonderment at this rule of his. Part of me idly wondered what studies he used to come up with 7 or 8 as the magic number rather than finding that 6 or 9 runthroughs were the required minimum. But mostly I was sad. The sheer impracticality of his rule meant that most of his audience would ignore the underlying valuable point of the advice.
I don’t for a moment dispute the truthfulness of saying that if you practice 7 or 8 times you will end up well prepared for your live speech, knowing what you want to say, when you want to say it, and how you want to express it. But come on! Unless you are a CEO or presidential candidate preparing for a career-impacting speech to be heard by tens or hundreds of thousands, you and I both know that you aren’t going to do 7 full practice recitations. I’m guessing you may have another responsibility or two in your job.
You could say that expressing the advice this way is an implicit bargaining position… “I’ll say 7 or 8 in the hopes that they might settle for 1 or 2 rehearsals.” But I think it more likely that your audience will purse their lips, blow out a disgusted puff of air, and laugh at you. If your doctor tells you that you need to lose weight and get a little more fit, he doesn’t finish the sentence with “… and so I want you to run the Boston Marathon next weekend.”
I do lots of guest speaking about how to be more effective at preparing and delivering webinars. I constantly struggle with how much to throw at my audience. For example, I always talk about the importance of having a fail-over strategy as a presenter or moderator. What can you do to minimize the impact of a computer or audio failure? Because webinars are my full-time job and I support many clients on many webinars, I go to extremes that are impractical for casual webinar presenters. Should I tell you that you are required to have battery backup power sources on your computer, monitor, and headset? That you must have two computers on your desk plugged into separate outlets and power supplies? That you must dial in on two separate telephone networks? That you must have accounts with multiple audioconferencing providers so you can switch to a backup phone conference if necessary?
No. I try to explain the concept, give you suggestions for ways to minimize potential problems, offer examples of solution approaches and tell you to do what you can with what you have. Some people will order extra equipment. Most will not. Some won’t even print their presentation slides. But everyone will be more aware of the need for greater planning and preparation and when they hit a mission-critical webinar they will be ready to take the extra steps necessary to safeguard it.
There are countless ways to improve the quality, reliability, and value of our webinars. If you are coordinating a webinar for your company, help your presenters by giving them practical, incremental suggestions that they can actually incorporate. Starting from a position of intransigent irrationality is not going to change anybody’s existing work habits.
PS: Please practice your entire presentation, out loud, at LEAST once before giving it live! You will feel more comfortable, you will come across as professional and confident in your subject, and you will know your timing. The more times you give your presentation before the audience hears it, the better you will sound on event day.