Practice makes perfect

You've probably heard this before, but that doesn't diminish its importance. Practice is the single most important factor contributing to a good presentation. No matter how rushed you might be, make time for at least a few practice runs. The effects of practice will be apparent, and a poorly presented talk reflects upon both you and your attitude towards the material and audience. Don't be fooled by people who claim to be able to throw together a talk at a moment's notice. Generally, their talks fall into two categories - talks which are disjointed and awkward, and talks which have had the rough edges removed by numerous prior presentations (i.e., dull and unexciting).

One problem is that you can waste a tremendous amount of time by practicing all the wrong parts of your talk. It is necessary to run through the talk a few times to get an idea of how the talk will flow. After that, seek some outside feedback to make sure you are on the right track. Finally, practice all parts of the talk equally. If you always start at the beginning and work until you run into problems, the beginning of the talk will be great, but the final portion of the talk will be relatively more weak. Begin one out of every few practice runs in the middle or at the end of the talk.

Yes, that means running through the talk once or twice isn't enough, particularly if the material is new to you. If the presentation is important, treat it that way. Practice. My own rule of thumb is a minimum of 10 practice runs for any one presentation. This can be a big commitment of time, but consider what's riding on a successful job talk . . .

OK, so here are a few hints on how to manage the practice talks, and how to deal with making and using notes.

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Jeff Radel