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Who has time to practice? While many of us understand the VALUE of practice for an important interview or presentation, very often we end up winging it, or we re-live college and pull an all-nighter before that important meeting (only making it worse) to prepare those last minute details. What you’re getting in this Monthly Memo are the great tips that help make those precious practice sessions as productive as possible. (I love the letter “P.”)

Make it real: Too often practice is just play. “Oh, you do that, then I’ll say this and then we’ll end this way, okay?” Not taking practice seriously is one of the best ways to sink that big opportunity. Make your practice as realistic as possible. Do it in a similar room to the one you will face on the big day. Run through it UNINTERUPTED! If you are stopping and making changes all the time you never have a true feel for what the final product will actually look like. Early practices may be a little rough but as you get closer to the event you need to make the session as real as possible.

Use a camera: Yes, I know people hate it, but a camera is the very best teaching tool ever invented. You can talk about Bob’s lack of charisma, but when Bob sees himself on camera he suddenly realizes he needs to pump up the energy! The camera forces you to listen to your voice and see your gestures (or lack of them) and saves you lots of time in quickly fine tuning the finished product.

Ask for specific feedback from your team: How many times have you done a run-through of a major project and when you ask for feedback you hear, “It was fine.” “Good.” “Okay.” None of those words really tell you anything! Ask for specific feedback ahead of time. Let your colleagues know you are working on this weak spot or trying to improve this strength and you need to know if it’s working. It’s the only way you know you are getting better and then the team starts pulling in the same direction, working on each individual’s goals.

Get an outsider’s opinion: Whether you hire a professional coach like myself or ask Debbie down the hall to come in for some feedback, get that outsider’s opinion. (Debbie is good, but I’m better!) Many times we’re just too close to the material and we’re not able to offer a true, fresh outlook on the overall message. As you get closer to the finish line make sure someone from the outside sees how you are doing.

Practice time is extremely important. The most successful communicators I know would not go in front of a camera or an audience without serious practice. Adopt that same policy starting today!