Two weeks ago, one of my executive coaching clients delivered a brief presentation at her division’s Town Hall. When I asked her how it went, she said, “Just okay…but it could have been great if I’d been more prepared.” I asked her what got in the way of her preparation, expecting an answer like “too much work” or “big client meeting” but she candidly admitted that she simply avoided setting aside time to practice. She went on to stress that she knows she’s better when she practices, but she still finds reasons not to do so.

I wish I could say she’s the only one who avoids practicing, but she’s not… but at least she was transparent about it! Why do we hate to practice when we know it will make us better? Here’s what clients have said:

1. “It takes time, and I have a lot of real work to do.” I need to expose some faulty logic here. Delivering an excellent presentation is real work. Motivating, educating or inspiring others is part of your job. Without thoughtful preparation, your presentation is more likely to waste people’s time, including your own. Invest the time upfront for a better return later.

2. “It feels awkward and unnatural when I practice, even if I’m alone.” Of course it does! Any activity that is outside of our normal routine feels awkward. When you establish a routine of practice and preparation, it becomes much more efficient…and much more natural. And that shows up on stage as poise and confidence.

3. “I’m afraid if I practice too much I’ll become stale and over-rehearsed.” Fair point. No one wants to sound robotic. Have you ever wondered how Broadway actors deliver an authentic and heartfelt performance show after show, eight shows a week, week after week? They’ll tell you: No two performances are the same because no two audiences are the same. The subtle shifts in the live audience’s response keeps them on their toes. Try including audience participation in your next presentation for a little boost of energy.

4. “I practiced in my head, so I’m fine.” Hey, I’m a big fan of mental rehearsal and visualization, but no athlete or dancer or musician will tell you that mental practice alone is enough. Delivering a presentation is a physical activity. You need to know in advance how to manage your gestures, posture, facial expression, breath and vocal volume. You need to get that presentation into your muscle memory, just like a gymnast does with her routine, or baseball players do with the double play, or marching bands do at halftime:

October 18th half-time salute to rock music – watch and tell me if the OSU marching band could have done this without actual practice!
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