When we advise rehearsing before each presentation, people regularly express concerns about the risk of losing their spontaneity. There is indeed a real danger, after having rehearsed a message too much, of being more focused on the content of the speech itself, rather than on communicating it to the audience. The speaker feels stuck in his text, experiencing real difficulty in diverting from it. As for the audience, it is listening to a disembodied presentation that, if properly crafted, doesn’t appear to be directed at it. Those who have already experienced this, often blame themselves for having rehearsed their speech to the point of not being able to connect with their audience effectively and losing all spontaneity. But this argument hides a more complex reality.
We are all more comfortable with topics we master well. Precisely because the speech is clear in our minds, having constantly explained or talked about it. We regularly make the analogy with a walk in the woods: you know the way by heart, there are parts you like a lot, others less, and you can divert from the path but you are never lost. If you want to make a detour to show something to someone, you have enough landmarks along the route – a tree, a stone, a body of water – to find your way. A presentation unfolds in exactly the same way. There is your destination, the conclusion, intended to be repeated to anchor the key message of your speech. There is also, throughout the presentation, facts, graphics, findings, figures and results. And finally, there is the path that you will take to address all these subjects in order to make them appear in a coherent form: your narrative structure.
The purpose of a rehearsal is to memorize this narrative structure and all the transitions that will allow you to link one piece of information to another. Thus, you will retain the thread that will link all your key ideas together. This will allow you to control the framework of your presentation and offer your audience a coherent story that will bring meaning to the information they need to retain. A good rehearsal is not intended to memorize words and set phrases but rather to build a mental map of your presentation. By rehearing this way, you’ll be sure not to get lost in your remarks, and you’ll gain serenity and spontaneity when you approach the critical information you need to convey at each stage of the presentation.
It would be extreme to learn a full speech by heart. There is a real risk of cutting yourself off from your audience, losing not only spontaneity but sincerity as well. Once you know your text, it will be very difficult to divert from it and adapt your speech to the needs of your audience. Put yourself in the place of your brain: the situation is stressful, the audience is impressive and you have the choice between the safety of a text learned by heart, or the danger of improvising without a net. Obviously the brain chooses ease and safety. Thus the goal of the presentation becomes sticking to what has been rehearsed at the expense of an interactive exchange with the audience.