January 22, 2016
BEING prepared is just about the most audience-centric thing you can do. It confers a sense of importance and value on your listeners. It shows respect for their time and is arguably the least you can do in exchange for their attentiveness to you as a speaker. Plus, it ensures that what you deliver is actually received. Preparation shows—as does a lack of preparation.
All too often, though, people resist preparing for a talk or a media interview. Clients have told me it feels egotistical or self-important to them, and they feel—or want to appear—more humble than that. In their minds, preparing a “speech”—whether that means welcoming remarks at an event, a thank-you for an award, or even an introduction for a speaker—feels bloated and unnecessary. Still, we have to hold in mind that the audience comes first: “It’s all about them—it’s not about you!” You have a responsibility to deliver something of value to your audience, and the best way to do that is to be prepared.
When a speaker or presenter is prepared, the audience notices. The speaker is on point, and the message is clear and relevant to the audience. The prepared speaker doesn’t open with, “Well, I didn’t have time to prepare anything, so I hope you’ll bear with me.” Instead, the prepared speaker opens with an anecdote or an attention-grabbing factoid specific to that particular audience. Or the prepared speaker knows his or her desired outcome and puts it out there right up front.
There are many who speak or present in front of groups often enough that they feel it’s okay—and in fact, for some it feels more comfortable—to just “wing it.” Wingers are gamblers. Sometimes they win, but other times they lose. Since the outcome can go either way, you have to ask yourself if you can afford a loss. Or can you afford even to risk it? If speech prep were short enough and simple enough, would you devote just a few seconds to being prepared? I think anyone would.
Don’t know where to begin? That can be solved by doing what I call “going up to 30,000 feet and looking down.” Take the biggest-picture view you can find on your topic and be thought provoking about what’s at the core of your issue, or, as President George H. W. Bush is known to have called it, find that “vision thing.” The view from 30,000 feet is the exact opposite of peering through the weeds, and while most people in an organization are by definition, and indeed by assignment, stuck in the day-to-day weeds, certainly a leader is in a position—and arguably has the responsibility—to rise to a higher vantage point.
For an example of a 30,000-foot view, let’s look at another of my clients, an entrepreneurial company that manufactures super-high-end sports equipment. The executives came to me for spokesperson training in advance of what they expected to be a busy season of trade shows and competitions where their products and sponsored athletes would attract a lot of attention. The engineering and technology that goes into the production of their equipment is as fascinating as it is dense with detail and data. Yet for the media—and for the benefit of building and promoting the brand—they needed to develop some higher-level messaging. The nitty-gritty details could be saved for the trade journals that craved them.
In a small-group session with the core executive team, I asked a series of questions to elicit the 30,000-foot view. Fundamentally, I was pushing and poking at them to home in and identify what their company is really all about. It’s not about the product line or producing the best equipment; it’s not about being made in America; it’s not even about satisfied customers. Those are all great attributes, but they’re closer to the ground. What the 30,000-foot exercise yielded in the end was that their company is all about three things, characterized in a different way: innovation, performance, and fun.
Having a 30,000-foot view of your organization’s work in your back pocket means you’re always prepared to speak at the higher visionary level befitting a leader. It gives you a go-to point when you need to make remarks that describe your work and its value.