Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Is it possible to "over-rehearse"?

How many times have we heard it? "You don't want to over-rehearse. You won't sound natural." The more I learn about public speaking, the more I believe this is nothing more than a meme, something people say when they either don't know what to say or are looking for excuses not to rehearse. As a relatively new speaker, I've had to choose between two opinions. You'll hear these two opinions if you listen, so let's try to decide, which one should I listen to?

  • Somebody who's given a handful of public speeches, maybe even gotten their CC in Toastmasters, saying "You don't want to over-rehearse."
  • Actors, who rehearse the same script for months and yet sound authentic when they perform it, or musicians who spend hundreds of hours woodshedding a tune and yet sound fresh when it's performed, saying there is no such thing as over-rehearsing.

Personally, I think I side with the actors and musicians. So I was a bit surprised when I came upon this article by Nick Morgan. Nick is an expert on public speaking, specializing in how we come across to audiences in ways such as body language. (You can listen to an interview with Nick here on the excellent "What the Speak" podcast.) I was researching the question of whether you can over-rehearse and this article of Nick's came up. I saw the title and thought: how could rehearsing a presentation ever be a bad idea?

The article is interesting because he points out 3 kinds of rehearsal that are really not rehearsal at all:

  • Waiting until the last minute to rehearse. What this really means is the person procrastinated until the last minute and is hoping to cram all their rehearsal into one marathon session the day of the presentation. I can tell you, that doesn't work. You need to build rehearsal into the days or weeks prior to the presentation.
  • Rehearsing the wrong speech. This is pretty much the same as the first one. Michael Port, former professional actor and now speaker and speech coach, says the majority of the editing happens during the rehearsal process. I wholeheartedly agree with this. My speech at the beginning of the rehearsal process gets changed as soon as it starts coming out of my mouth. (More on this in another posting.)
  • Rehearing it only in your mind. This is not rehearsal at all. In fact, it's really a euphemism for "winging it." (I'll be talking about this more in another posting as well.)
In reality, he's saying the same thing: you cannot over-rehearse. As Nick concludes, "How much should you rehearse?  A lot.  Stage actors often get up to 6 weeks, 5 or 6 days per week, 8 – 10 hours per day, to rehearse.  That’s how you end up looking natural, assured, and authoritative.  Not by winging it."

So, let's follow the actors and musicians and, until next time, rehearse well.


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