I am not going to have a nag about the need to rehearse when you are giving a presentation - let’s take that as read and consider this:
When should you STOP rehearsing? In an ideal world (and I am all too familiar with how grim things can be in the real business world) the answer is ‘24 hours in advance’. It’s what magicians call the ‘Hollingworth Rule’ after esteemed conjuror Guy Hollingworth who points to the futility of say, cramming for exams until the moment you walk into the room, and instead advocates a period of rest and reflection. It’s like the stories you hear of generals who pore over plans throughout the night, only to lose battles to rivals whose final briefing was: “Big day tomorrow, let’s all get some sleep”.
It that case, what’s the best chance of getting proper sleep the night before? An important part of the early stages of preparation is – again in an ‘ideal’ world – to visit the venue in which you will be presenting. That enables you to make logistical plans but, most important of all, it allows you to visualise how things will be on the big day. As you lie in bed the night before you can then have it all quietly turning over in your mind and you will probably fall into deep asleep. If you can’t visualise the scenario because you are not familiar with the venue, you will have a sense of ‘nothingness’ churning away in your head and that will keep you awake.
Whatever you do, avoid any major ‘structural’ work on your presentation at the late stages. I despair when people start offering ‘helpful’ comments the night before such as: “I think perhaps we should rethink these colour schemes”, or “can we add a demonstration of the product”. Such suggestions can only create and add to stress levels at a time when all the focus should be on making the presenters themselves feel as comfortable as possible, which can only be jeopardised by changes to the format.
The one thing a presenter should do at the late stages is to become word perfect with how they plan to open and close. ‘Firsts and Lasts’ are the most important parts of any presentation because those are the elements that audience members remember. Even more importantly, a good start is essential to engaging the audience, making them pay attention and getting them to like you. The climax is where you deliver your ‘Call to Action’ and send them away with a message to remember.
So plan to stop fiddling with what are really no more than support materials 24 hours in advance, providing some time to devote to yourself. Use that time to visualise how good you are going to be in that scenario and to becoming word perfect at the bits that really matter. This will make you look and feel confident – not least because you can work free of notes and give full-on eye contact, just when it is needed most.