Do I really need rehearsal? Really? Frequent Questions

Q: Do I really need rehearsal?

A: Do you really need to get your point across?

I get it. Many clients hate “wasting their time” in rehearsal—standing in an empty room for an hour, saying the things they will later say in a full room.

Do you need rehearsal?Here’s my tough-love response: If you don’t want to rehearse, don’t accept the gig. But if you have accepted the gig, if you’re going to stand up in front of a roomful of people and ask for their attention, you owe it to them—and to your reputation—to be prepared.

Think about it: How would you feel if one of your direct reports made an unrehearsed presentation to the Board of Directors? Would you think well of him? “Gee, what a great guy. And clearly so busy with his real work to bother with preparation. Impressive.”

I think not.

I expect you’d be embarrassed that one of your people showed up unprepared. You might even feel that he didn’t respect you or value the Board’s time. (And you’d be right.) Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be that guy when comp time rolls around.

You hate having to sit through an unprepared speaker’s performance. That—not rehearsal—is the true waste of your time.

So why would you even think about inflicting that pain on someone else?

Yes, you need rehearsal

Chris Voss, the former FBI hostage negotiator, might seem an unlikely person to offer advice to speakers. But in his book Never Split the Difference: negotiating as if your life depended on it, he introduces one of the best arguments for rehearsal I’ve ever read: the “7-38-55” rule.

“UCLA psychology professor Albert Mehrabian created the 7-38-55 rule. That is, only 7 percent of a message is based on the words while 38 percent comes from the tone of voice and 55 percent from the speaker’s body language and face.”

Translation: Audiences have many ways to spot a bullsh*tter. So don’t be one.

Oliver Sacks told a story in one of his books—maybe The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, though I don’t have access to check it right now—of some neurology patients watching a televised speech by then-president Ronald Reagan. The sound was turned off, so they could not hear what the president was talking about. But although it was a serious subject, they were laughing their heads off. They registered his insincerity just by looking at him.

A later Republican president remains barely comprehensible when you listen to him speak, but completely indecipherable—and more than a little nutty—when you read the transcripts. In his case, his facial expressions and demeanor work in his advantage. Audiences somehow see him as more substantive than readers do.

People think speeches of speeches as a bunch of words. And words are important. But (and it pains me to write this), words may not be the most important element of a speech. Tone of voice, the expressions on your face, your comfort onstage—these convey your confidence in your message.

So do you need rehearsal? Only if you want people to believe you and your message.

And if you don’t want people to believe you, then—again—why did you accept the gig to begin with?


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