How over-rehearsing can undermine your presentation

The time and energy devoted to a few extra run-throughs might be better spent on revitalizing yourself with rest, exercise and proper nutrition and hydration. Speakers, heed this advice.

You’re giving a big presentation and have been really busy, so you haven’t rehearsed it as much as you’d like.

What to do? For many speakers, the answer is to cram in as many rehearsals as you can in the day leading up to the speech.

That is not the answer. It is a surefire way to lose your voice, tire yourself out and undermine your performance.

Rather than burning the candle at both ends to rehearse your speech, plan an on-site dress rehearsal and technology check the day before your presentation, and run through it one last time on the morning you are slated to deliver it.

Otherwise, shift your focus to these five aspects of self-care so you will be physically and mentally able to do the best possible job with your presentation:

1. Rest. Of course you’re busy; that’s why you didn’t rehearse enough in the first place. But maintaining a hectic calendar the day or two leading up to your speech is a recipe for disaster. Keeping a breakneck pace (even if that’s your norm) can leave you feeling overwhelmed and frazzled when you step up to the lectern.

To decrease your stress level before your speech, clear your calendar of any meetings that can wait until later and decline invitations to meals or social events that could strain your voice or drain your energy. Don’t fill in this time with rehearsals; use the time to revitalize yourself.

2. Sleep. Some people need five hours; others need nine. Honestly assess how many hours of sleep you need to perform at your peak, and aim to get enough sleep the night before your speech, and ideally two nights before. This requires planning to ensure that you have finished working, eaten early enough and given yourself time to relax so you can fall asleep without sleep aids, which can undermine the quality of your shut-eye.

Resist the urge to stay up late talking through your speech or reading up on your topic. The mental sharpness and balance that comes with adequate sleep will far outweigh any advantage you might get from a few late-night or early-morning cram sessions.

3. Hydration. Public speaking, especially under bright lights, can dehydrate you. Hydrate thoroughly the day before and the day of your speech. Carry a water bottle with you to reach your hydration goals. Remember to stop slamming water a few hours before you go to bed and a few hours before you speak so you don’t interrupt your sleep or feel uncomfortable during your presentation because you need a bathroom break. Staying hydrated will help stave off fatigue and prevent hoarseness.

4. Nutrition. Taking time to prepare or find healthy meals the day leading up to your speech will be a better use of time than throwing in a few extra rehearsals. Just as elite athletes have regimens for eating foods that leave them feeling full and energized for hours, speakers should consume regular meals and snacks that keep them from having spikes or lulls in energy. If you are traveling for your presentation, pack some healthy snacks so your nutrition efforts aren’t undermined by limited choices at airports, hotels and conference centers.

5. Exercise. Many speakers sleep better and feel less anxious if they incorporate light exercise into the day before and/or of their presentation. Hold off on strenuous workouts that will leave you feeling drained or sore, but do engage in physical activity that boosts your mood, helps you feel focused and burns off nervous energy. Consider trading an extra rehearsal for half an hour of walking, jogging, swimming or yoga.

Regardless of whether you can rehearse thoroughly in the week or two leading up to your presentation, don’t sabotage yourself by cramming in lots of practice sessions the day before and the day of your speech. There is a point of diminishing returns after two or three last run-throughs.

Instead, spend the extra time on taking care of yourself so you are mentally focused and physically calm when you approach the microphone.

Christine Clapp is the author of “Presenting at Work: A Guide to Public Speaking in Professional Contexts” and the president of Spoken with Authority.

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