To rehearse or not to rehearse… that is the question

Sandra Davis, Director, notes that the very best actors make the time to practice. The same should go for corporate performers.

Just like picking salad over fries, we know that rehearsing a presentation or pitch is the right thing to do. But most people are perfectly capable of justifying the ‘wrong’ decision.

So, does rehearsing really make a difference? The simple answer is: ‘Yes’. It applies even if you know your content really well; even if you know the audience really well; and even if it is going to be super difficult to find the time.

And especially if you have invested your time in refining the content.


Three key reasons:

  1. To enhance your effectiveness;
  2. Because written and spoken language are not the same; and
  3. Presentations and conversations have very different rules.

A bit more detail…

1. Enhancing effectiveness

Imagine you are going to see a play in London’s West End (in a non-COVID 19 world) staring Judi Dench or James McAvoy. You would be truly shocked if they had not been to rehearsals. They would not tread the boards without rehearsing. No-one questions their ability to act, but they know that if they are to deliver their best performance, they need to rehearse.

Because how you say the words matters. For people to listen, there needs to be variety in both pitch and pace of delivery. A sustained monotone, evenly-paced delivery is soothing, but boring. Also, how you use your voice adds meaning:

  • Speeding up denotes energy and enthusiasm;
  • Slowing down acts like a verbal highlighter, directing the audience to important pieces of information; and
  • A long pause builds suspense, indicating that the next thing you will say is important.

2.  Written or spoken language?

A simple truth: we don’t speak the way we write. Spoken language is less formal, more conversational – we have a name for it ‘colloquial’.

We can decode complex sentence structures when we are reading before by the age of ten, but it is incredibly difficult to do when we are listening, at any age. We use rhetorical devices such as repetition to draw attention to important points – which look odd on the page. And some words and phrases are simply hard to say.

It is incredibly difficult to evaluate all of this in your head. It is not until you say your speech out loud that you can truly test whether your content sounds like something you would say.

3.  Presentations versus conversations

Presentations are not conversations. They have a different set of rules. It would be an odd presentation indeed if you were only sharing information that the audience already knew. As such, they need more time to digest it than they would in a normal conversation.

Slower speech rates help. That is not to say you need to speak slowly all the time (particularly bearing in mind point 1) but you need more pausing than you would use conversationally. Shorter sentences help achieve this. But it feels strange.

We don’t like pauses – we call it ‘uncomfortable silence’. So we fill them with ‘ums’ and ‘er’s or words or phrases that add nothing to your messaging such as ‘you know’ or ‘basically’. A few of these is fine, of course. But more than a few and they start to become intrusive to the listener, and when they become a regular feature in your speech they become an unhelpful focal point and can make you look unprepared and incompetent. Rehearsing aloud will help you embrace the silence and reduce the fillers.


We’re not saying this is easy. Feedback helps. Record yourself and play back to see how you are doing. Even better, use the Bladonmore SayMore app (available to download) to get feedback on different aspects of your delivery such as your speech rate and whether you are letting filler words dominate.

In our experience the presenters who make it look easy are the ones who have spent the most time working on their content and practicing their delivery. Rehearsal = higher performance = more effective outcomes to your presentation. It’s all about your story, well told.

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Sandra Davis

Director, Coaching

Sandra leads on Bladonmore’s presentation coaching. As a close advisor to senior management at organisations including Land Securities, Rio Tinto and GE, she helps leaders to articulate their message and ensure it cuts through.

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