The opportunity to rehearse in the space you will be presenting in is a huge boon to your professional presentation. We are big advocates of finding a way to make that happen. Being able to access your space ahead of time goes a long way towards easing your public speaking anxiety and stage fright. It helps you continue to remove the variables in advance- you are lessening the surprises that can happen come show time.
But walking into your presentation space for the first time, even just for your rehearsal, can be incredibly daunting. Actors know what it feels like to walk into a theatre for our rehearsals- even if there is a positive excitement, it can be an anxious time. Luckily, between an actor's experience, the stage manager's knowledge and the director's guidance, we can navigate our rehearsal time so it can be used to the best of our ability.
How can you make the most of those precious pre-presentation rehearsal moments in the space so that you can approach your presentation with confidence and allow that public speaking anxiety to be funneled into positive energy? Here's how to do it, even if you don't have a whole team around you.
First things first, when you get into your presentation space, set your things down and make sure you have access to the time. Part of a stage manager's job during the rehearsal process is to keep everyone honest timewise so that everything gets accomplished. If there isn't a clock on the wall, and you're not wearing a watch, grab your phone and make a note of how much time that you have.
After you've got your time needs covered, take just a few minutes and walk the space. Start by walking through the audience- go sit in the farthest seat from the stage. See how the stage looks from the back of the house. Go walk in a section that may have an obstructed view. See how it feels to sit dead center in the audience. Once you've spent time walking through the house, continue your walk on stage. If you're on a proper stage, walk through the wings as well. If you're on a raised platform, walk from left to right, forward and back (or upstage and downstage!). This will help you get a feel for the space that you are about to fill.
Next, take some time and create your set. Locate all of your equipment hookups, outlets, etc. If you're running a demo, decide where you're going to set your table and computer so that you aren't blocked from your audience. (You can find more information about setting the stage for demos here.) If there is a lectern or table available, and you don't necessarily need it, don't feel you have to use it! You can always ask to have them removed.
Now that you've walked the space, stand center stage and do a quick exercise to help you breathe the space. Take a deep breath and release it on an "ahhhh" with the amount of volume that it would take to reach the front row of the audience. Now take a deep breath and make that "ahhhh" audible in the center of the audience. Repeat, increasing the distance (and the sound needed to fill it!) every time. This will help youthink about the volume you will need to present and center any anxious feelings with deep, relaxing core breaths.
Ideally, before you get to your pre-presentation rehearsal in the space you will have already put in rehearsal time, and you will have an idea of how you'd like your blocking to work. Take that information and do a stumble through in the space. Hold your notes and give your blocking a go on its feet. This is a great time to see what blocking choices might not work, where you can add movement that may be lacking, and make sure that you can connect with all seats in the audience. Stumble through a few times, if possible. Then once you feel what works and what doesn't, set your blocking. This will be the final blocking for your presentation. By setting the blocking, you reduce your risk of nervous wandering or unintentional movement. Make notes for yourself so you remember what your movement will be.
*Bonus Tip!: If possible, find a colleague who is free and ask them to be your director. Have them watch your rehearsal and help you out with some feedback on things like volume, movement, and audience connection.
When you have a rehearsal plan and process for your pre-presentation rehearsal time in the space, you make the most of it. And, as we always say, nothing helps you deal with stage fright and public speaking anxiety better than preparation and rehearsal time. Do you have any rehearsal tips to share? Let us know in the comments!