A Guide for Autistic Students to Using Video Rehearsal for Presentations and Interviews

Contributor Katie Matthews explores why some students are using video rehearsal to improve their presentation and interview results. Recording your work and critiquing it can be intimidating, but this extra step can reveal simple things that you can control and improve upon before you’re in front of the class. Being confident in front of the class and knowing you prepared to the fullest can positively affect your presentation grade.

As you transition from high school and begin your college education, more and more opportunities to give oral presentations and experience in-person interviews are sure to pop up. Class projects, internship interviews, and mock job interviews are worth preparing for in order to get the best results.

In a 2010 Forbes article, Shweta Khare points out that “while taking public speaking courses or joining a Toastmasters club are helpful ways to get over presentation nerves and gain practice in front of an audience, without self evaluating via video, your presentation skills will remain stagnant.” Media Training Worldwide CEO TJ Walker says, “You must record your entire presentation on video and then watch it. You absolutely must do this. It is the only way to find out if your presentation is any good. You have to watch yourself giving your speech. You can’t just stare at words written on paper. The presentation is you actually speaking, so you have to edit the rough draft of you actually speaking.” We appreciate Khare and Walker’s passion! While we know there are many useful methods for improving presentation and public-speaking skills, video rehearsal can indeed be a terrific tool to increase your comfort and prepare to wow your audience.

So, how do you actually go about using video rehearsal strategies to better your presentations and feel more confident?

1:  Know what you are going to say. This might mean that you have a final draft of a Powerpoint, bulleted questions for an interviewer, or a written script of what you will be reading. Depending on the nature of your assignment or audience, your preparations will vary. Don’t forget you can always consult with your professor, TA, or a tutor to help with the content you’re communicating.

2:  Find a working video camera and recruit help if needed. For most presentations, setting up a phone or laptop camera solo will be enough to record yourself speaking. Check to make sure the battery won’t run out halfway through. If you want to try a mock interview, you can ask a tutor or academic counselor whether they are willing to partake in a practice interview (they don’t even have to be on camera) or ask a classmate or friend to role play.

3:  Try to set up the environment to be as close to the reality of your presentation as possible. That means if you’re going to be standing in front of a classroom, stand up when you rehearse. If you are going to be sitting at a conference table setting, practice while seated in front of a table. Wear the outfit you’re planning on wearing on the day so that you’ll notice an itchy collar or a distracting message on your shirt and can make changes. Practice saying a few words with the camera rolling and play it back to make sure you can see and hear yourself well. You might need to reserve a room in the library or find a time when roommates aren’t home to have a quiet environment.

4:  Go through the spoken presentation while recording yourself. Once you’re finished, watch the video back and take notes. This might be uncomfortable to do, but it’s well worth it because you can think about all the aspects that make for a strong presentation or interview and make adjustments accordingly.

  1. Where are you looking? At or near the audience or interviewer, or straight down at your notes? While you’ll most likely need to reference your written words sporadically, looking out towards the people watching shows that you have rehearsed, know the material well, and are confident in what you’re saying. If addressing a crowd, have you looked to all areas of the room? Uncomfortable eye-contact isn’t necessary and shouldn’t be forced, but audiences generally appreciate it when presenters look up from their notes.
  2. What are your hands doing? Do you point towards your PowerPoint for emphasis or hold notecards in your hand to glance down at? If you find your hands doing something you find distracting, make note of it. When you rehearse again, you can try placing them in your pocket, touching the lectern, or gesturing towards important points to help add to what you’re saying and then compare the effects. Using your hands can add value to your presentation and help solidify and complement what you’re saying.
  3. What does your voice sound like? Are you speaking loudly enough? Is your rate slow enough to be clear, or do some words sound rushed or mumbled? Remember, for oral presentations, you’ll want to speak more slowly and add more pauses than you do when speaking with family and friends.
  4. Are you making supportive facial expressions? If you’re talking about something harrowing, are you accidentally smiling? Do you have an unanimated expression for the majority of the time you’re speaking? Or are you too animated to the point where it might look like acting? Try rehearsing with varying facial expressions and see what feels both comfortable and engaging.
  5. Check for filler words. Are you overly using “like” or “um?” While these are somewhat normalized in daily speaking and often increase during nervous moments, making note of your habits can help you be aware of what you might say and help decrease use of them.
  6. Do any parts of what you’re saying sound redundant or boring, and is anything missing that you meant to convey? Now is the time to be critical about the content of your speech and make changes to your product. Make sure to make these changes in your finalized PowerPoint as well as the notes you’ll have in front of you so you don’t forget. Remember, in all of the above, you’re not trying to mask or behave like a neurotypical student, but rather to increase your comfort level with being in front of the class, be as prepared as possible, and to present confidently.

5:  Once you have your notes, try rehearsing again while focusing on areas you’ve noted for improvement. Continue this process – while highlighting strengths and weaknesses – until you have a presentation you’re proud of.

Remember, one of the reasons many people feel anxiety about public speaking or important in-person interviews is the fact that they are unpredictable. Increased comfort and confidence in your speech will be relayed to your audience and help them believe in what you’re saying.

Be ready for minor, unexpected things to happen on the day of the presentation or interview. You might need to change the height of a microphone, classmates might tell you to restart because the PowerPoint wasn’t working right, or someone might knock on a door in the middle of an interview. These are things you cannot control. However, by having your part polished and rehearsed, you will be setting yourself up for success.

You might also like On Using “Get Ready, Do, Done”: A Model to Support Executive Functioning for Autistic Students and Strategies for Autistic Students Around Exam and Paper Due Dates.

What are your best tips for being well prepared for a presentation?
Does video rehearsing sound like something that you might benefit from?
Let me know in the comments section!

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Katie is a part time speech and language pathologist and part time professional runner. Katie received both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Boston University in Speech, Hearing, and Language Sciences and Speech-Language Pathology, respectively. She also trains on the Boston Athletic Association High Performance Team. Katie has experience in public and private schools as well as private clinic settings. She works with children and young adults with a variety of disabilities, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Katie loves to share executive functioning and planning tips along with the more traditional social language strategies to help students succeed.

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