Test Your Presentations by Pretending to Be the Prospect

Rehearsal makes you more confident. Confidence plays very well to a business audience. Yet too many ad agencies and marketing communications firms go into new business pitches with little or no rehearsal… and then wonder why the better-prepared next agency down the block got the job.

We’ve written at length about making your presentations memorable with a “Wow” factor, and trying to create chemistry with the audience. But understanding how to rehearse a pitch can help you refine your pitch efforts to develop your strongest, best-possible presentation—and gain more wins.

The next time you prepare a new business presentation, allow time for rehearsal. If multiple people are participating in the presentation, rehearse together. As you rehearse, record the proceedings. Here are some additional tips for preparing your next presentation.

Smile. Confidence isn’t conveyed just through knowing your material. Be upbeat and use good body language (good posture, but leaning toward the listeners). Use natural hand movements and gestures. Be real.

Make eye contact. Don’t spend the presentation staring at your own slides. Talk to your audience. Rehearse by printing out your audience members’ mug shots from their online company bios, and pasting them on chairs in your rehearsal room. Practice making eye contact as you make key points.

Vary the tempo. Your presentation should be compact, but vary the tempo for interest. Take some segments at a brisk pace, slow down over others, pause to let points sink in.

Emphasize important thoughts. Use vocal inflections and strategic pauses to highlight key insights. Try to frame your main points so you can use just ten slides, (including intro and summary). Make your points telegraphic—simple, memorable phrases that will linger in the audience’s heads afterwards.

Simplify, simplify, simplify. The dictum, “Less is more,” applies even more to presentations than to the work you present. As you rehearse, think about whether you are being redundant, or can cut segments that are less important to the pitch.

Now change hats. Look at the video recording and pretend you are the prospect. What questions will you ask? Are there weak points where you want to follow-up with the speaker? Are there things you, the customer, need to know that the speaker did not address? Are you distracted by tics or verbal stops (ums and uhs)? Have others look at the video, or watch your live rehearsal, and share their comments, too.

Prepare answers for client questions. Use the feedback to prepare answers to possible questions, tighten up weak sections of the presentation, and improve your overall stagecraft. Hold additional rehearsals for the Q & A portion of the presentation, so you can practice delivering persuasive answers to tough questions.

Good rehearsal practices help you to relax and present a strong, solid, professional and expert persona to prospects who may know you only from a short first meeting, or merely as a name on an RFP list. You will be more likely to impress your audience by making your presentation cleaner, more concise and complete, and the audience will be more likely to offer you the business.