Practice Makes Perfect


Whether you want to be successful at public speaking, at cooking, or at building a birdhouse, practice grows your confidence and your knowledge base.  Malcolm Gladwell famously popularized the 10,000 hour rule which says 10,000 hours of practice leads to “expertise” of a particular subject.

Imagine your current level of public speaking practice, for example.  Let’s say you prepare an outline, prepare your slides, and never rehearse.  You aren’t putting in that time and effort to succeed, and you aren’t working toward those 10,000 hours necessary for mastery.  Most of my students need to learn that practice is a good habit to cultivate every single day – it isn’t something you can just pull off the shelf once a month when you need it.  Practice is something I rarely see enough of in my class; most students have a work ethic I would personally be ashamed of if I were them.  In this culture of laziness, practice takes a backseat to Facebook chat and posting Instagram photos.

I loved reading Body of Work by Pamela Slim (book review coming next week!), and she talks about putting in the time, effort, and practice for the things we care about.  She challenges us to increase our efforts.  What if we practiced a speech 100 times instead of 5?  Practice and effort in any area of our life will allow us to grow those skills.

Learn more about the 10,000 hour theory of practice below:



How much time do you spend preparing and practicing for the things you care about most?


How To Practice Your Way To Great Public Speaking


Last month, I wrote my fifth article for the Full Sail University blog and student/faculty portal, Connect.  My focus has been teaching students practical public speaking and presentation techniques outside of the classroom, and this is especially important for students who don’t take my class or any public speaking class at all.

Read “How To Practice Your Way To Great Public Speaking” here.

Do you write for fun?  Where have you been published?

Follow-Up To The Importance of Preparation


Brian Washburn of Train Like A Champion wrote a comment about today’s post, and it was too good not to share with all of you!  Brian says:

“One of the things I’ve been able to get my colleagues to agree to at work is a ‘dressed rehearsal day’ on the eve of any major meeting or conference we organize. Last year was the first year we implemented it, and it was eye opening (and a bit of a disaster) on the first go – a lot of ‘death by PPT’ and too little time to fix it. We’ve continued this dressed rehearsal habit over the course of the past year. Last week, in preparation for a major presentation in India, the dressed rehearsal went well and the 2-day meeting was phenomenal – engaging, interactive, well-rehearsed delivery.

When it comes to your high achieving students who take the time to form good presenting habits – let them know that once the grades have faded away, the true measure of success will be on the feedback they get when presenting in front of their boss or clients or other people who may reward them not with grades but rather riches and fame (or at least good job evaluations and increased opporutnities for high profile roles).”

Thanks for reading and for your AMAZING feedback, Brian!  I will pass along your wise advice to my students.

Resisting Presentation Mediocrity: The Importance of Preparation


Hearing someone say “I’m just going to wing it” sends me into a state of panic.  Students who don’t prepare or practice for their presentation do not do well; there has never been “wing it” situation gone right.

Surprisingly, even in the high-stakes business world, few presenters truly invest the time they should to 1) preparing for their content/message, 2) designing effective, audience-centered slides, and 3) practicing their delivery/putting all three “legs” of the presentation ecosystem together.  As Nancy Duarte explains in her book Slide:ology, an essential element of preparation includes feedback and constructive criticism.  But how much time do we actually spend preparing?  And why should we prepare when everyone else around us doesn’t prepare?



My students deliver presentations almost every single month that they attend school.  That means they come to my class with a slew of bad habits that take time and effort to correct.

First, since their other instructors aren’t presentation experts, the bar is often set very low for these students.  The students can “wing it” and make an “A” because the instructors haven’t studied, taught, lived, and breathed public speaking and presentation.  Usually, if the content is there, and if all of the content is written out on the slides, the instructor feels the student did his or her job.  Sadly, this perpetuates mediocre, selfish presenting as opposed to audience-centered presenting that will resonate.

Also, since the students who spend hours and hours on preparation earn the same grades as the students who “wing it,” my hard-working students become frustrated that their efforts don’t actually pay off in other classes.  If a student is being graded on how well he or she can write a script out on a slideshow, turn around, and read those slides, why present in an effective way?  If a boring, standard, death-by-PowerPoint earns an “A,” why bother presenting any other way?

Third, the students see terrible presentations every single day at school.  Most students complain that their teachers bore them to tears using death-by-bulletpoint slides and the standard, sterile lecture format.  Why should the students work hard to develop strong presentations when their own teachers don’t prepare themselves?

These are questions I am faced with each time I get a new batch of Professional Communication and Presentation students.  And, ultimately, the students are faced with a choice.  They can a) completely transform the way they communicate and speak to an audience or they can b) continue being mediocre.

Most people opt for mediocrity.  Andrew Dlugan examines the public speaking bell curve in “Average Speakers Suck.  Don’t Be Average.”  Dlugan explains that, while it’s okay to be “average” on the bell curve of height or of golf-playing ability, if you are an average speaker, you suck.



So, yes, most speakers suck.  Most presentations suck.  Most people revel in their mediocrity and have no problem with their average-ness.  Dlugan writes, “Why is the average speaker so bad? Like golf, most people in the world never receive any formal communications training, and they never pursue any informal training either. We all pay the price. Think of the last 50 presentations you have attended. How many kept you interested throughout? Ten? Five? Fewer than five?” (Source).

I explain to my students that if they want to, they can give into mediocrity.  Being mediocre is so easy!  After all, anyone can present an average speech.  However, my students can also decide NOT to be mediocre.  They can decide to work to become strong, powerful, effective presenters, and the first step to delivering a message that resonates is to focus on preparation.

How do you resist the constant tug of presentation mediocrity?

How Long Should I Spend Preparing For A Presentation?


Students ask me this question quite often.  The answer depends on how high the stakes are, doesn’t it?  For me, the stakes are always high.  Whether I’m developing a presentation for class, a workshop for fellow faculty, or a video for my volunteer organization, I spend a lot of time and effort preparing.

Let’s break down the presentation I most recently presented in a high-stakes environment.  I presented a Faculty Development workshop in November called “The Introduction the Presentation Revolution.”  I’ve spend about three years reading, studying, and learning the content of the presentation.  If I haven’t put in a thousand hours on my content (my message) yet, I’m getting close.  It took me two months to develop the slideshow, the visual presentation.  I worked a little bit every day from August to November.  For the entire month of November, I rehearsed and practiced my delivery.  This may seem extreme because I am a perfectionist.  Nancy Duarte’s more reasonable suggestion is putting in 36-90 hours of preparation time for a one-hour presentation (Source).

You don’t have time to prepare?  Well, your audience doesn’t want you to waste their time.  Time is valuable.  Consider an audience of 25 people.  Let’s say those people spend one hour listening to you speak.  Including you, that’s 1560 minutes of life you and your audience will never, ever get back.  Is it worth their while?  Are you putting in 1560 minutes of preparation to ensure your audience’s 1560 minutes are worthwhile?

Keep in mind that there is a difference between preparation and practice.  Preparation is about content. Practice is about delivery.  Ethos3’s Scott Schwertly says we should practice at least 8 times (Source).  I believe you must figure out the exact times for yourself, but these general figures from Nancy Duarte and Ethos3 go a long way to let you know how much time and effort the professionals put into their presentations.

Let’s get real.  No one wants to work hard.  Everyone wants the easy way out.  The only people who will be strong presenters are the ones who go the extra mile because they know that’s what their audience needs, wants, and deserves.