Why Rehearse? A Confession

As I was preparing my talk on "How to Become a Unique & Sexy Speaker" for the So. Cal. MENSA Regional Gathering a few weeks ago, the Evil Gremlin on my left shoulder whispered in my ear, "You don't need to rehearse. You've written a whole book about this. You know this stuff cold. All you need is an outline, and you can wing it from there. Just go for it!          

            "Hmmm," I thought. "Maybe he's right. I'm short on time. I've talked about this topic before. I don't need to rehearse. I'll just wing it."

            Almost immediately, the Good Angel on my right shoulder whispered into that ear, "Waaaait a minute! Are you kidding? You of all people know how important it is to rehearse your speech at least 3 times before you give it. Do you want me to tell you all the reasons why? Remember the Six P's! Make time!"

            "Uh-oh," I thought. "Maybe she's right. I really should rehearse."

            I always think of my Evil Gremlin as 'he' and my Good Angel as 'she'. No particular reason.

            My Evil Gremlin spoke up louder. "Oh, come on! What are you, chicken? You've talked about this stuff for years now. You're not going to forget anything mid-speech. You're not going to trip over your tongue or be so nervous you can't talk. You're a pro! Just go out there and do your thing!"                                                                                                

            My Good Angel, rather than raising her voice, whispered deeper into my ear, "Yes, you have been speaking for quite awhile, and so you know that nothing ever goes totally smoothly. If you assume that nothing will go wrong, you'll 'make an ass out of u and me'!"

            Guess which one I listened to.

            My talk was to last 45 minutes. My outline contained what I thought was just the right amount of information to fill 3/4s of an hour, including a Q&A. The first time I rehearsed it, when my timer rang at 45 minutes, I still had 15 minutes of speech left. Obviously, I was going on too long. Not only that, I found myself stumbling over concepts I thought I knew cold, tripping over my tongue, saying 5 words where 2 would do, making awkward transitions, even forgetting one of my key stories that I like to use to illustrate a point. On the whole, it was a pretty sorry attempt. And a rude awakening.

            My second rehearsal went better. I cut 15 minutes that I could live without, made better transitions from point to point and repeated certain phrases that I liked in my first rehearsal to implant them in my memory. It was much smoother, kept within the allotted 45 minutes, and I reinforced the 3 major points I wanted to emphasize along with the stories that I'd created to amplify each one. So far so good.

            My 3rd rehearsal was smooth, confident, and devoid of annoying little connecting or thinking words like 'uh', 'um', and 'okay'. I recorded it so I could listen to it in the car or before I went to sleep at night, as added reinforcement. I remembered the clever descriptive phrases and stories from the first two rehearsals, and I ended exactly on time. I was ready!

            Here's what happened at the event.

            I arrived on time, but the speaker ahead of me ran over. I had to start 15 minutes late. I now only had 30 minutes, which meant I had to cut something in order to leave room for my big finish and Q&A. I reread my outline and selected the concepts I could explain to the audience more succinctly without losing the focus of my talk. Thank goodness I'd listened to my Good Angel!

            I chose the few necessary points I needed to make these concepts compelling to the listeners and decided on the order of importance, leaving the most important for last. Then I put the outline aside. Because of those rehearsals, I was able to recall the key phrases I'd practiced. There was just enough time for my big finish, a short Q&A, and then we were ushered out to make room for the next speaker assigned to use the room.

            Yes, it's a happy ending. The audience was pleased and came up to me in the corridor to ask more questions and talk a bit. Here was my chance to tell them some of what I'd had to cut out earlier. Nothing ever goes to waste.

            I confess to being just as human as the next speaker. We all want to take shortcuts if we think it'll make our job easier. But remember the Six P's: "Proper preparation prevents (im)possibly poor performance!" How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!

            My Evil Gremlin is nowhere to be found lately. I think he's gone into hiding. Not to worry. He'll be back.