Have you ever noticed that some people can always find the words to communicate what they need to say?
I have become such a person over the last decade, and I never could put my finger on how exactly I got there…
… until now.
In this post, I’m going to share a technique I’ve never shared before, because I hadn’t realized that I was doing it. I had unintentionally engaged in a patterned behavior that is one part SagePresence methodology, and one part something else.
Business presenters get hit with a deficit that’s created by the very act of preparing for presentations and speeches – they think it through.
Take a look at your own life. You spend a lot of time thinking through what the right way to say something is at work, to your family, within your community. You ponder, process, organize, imagine, and maybe write it down. And these are good things. Yet none of these activities give you everything you need when you’re presenting. And they don’t represent the complete solution for when you A) lose your place, B) improvise in the moment, or C) answer questions.
The process of preparation – as useful as that process can be – can counter your ability to function “in the moment.”
Expert presenting needs to be able to do two things at once:
- Follow a plan
- Operate in real-time (outside of a plan)
The pattern of preparing actually sets you up for an inability to think in the moment, where many experts in “winging it” have built a pattern of not planning, and they do it expertly.
I am not an advocate of unplanned winging it. It’s too risky. I’m a serious planner when it comes to my presentations, but separate from that, I am just as seriously devoted to strengthening a particular muscle that frees me to master the moments I couldn’t possibly prepare for, and this particular muscle is only exercised when speaking out loud.
Thinking things through, but not speaking them out loud, creates an abstract version of readiness. A friend of mine delivered a significant speech after only thinking it through in his mind. When he got to the presentation, he tripped up in front of an audience as his very first words didn’t sound the way he’d imagined they would. Thinking and planning your way to a fine performance is like preparing for a swimming meet by riding a bike. It may be good body conditioning, but it’s the wrong activity to build the right muscle memory.
Think and prepare, and also build the muscle memory of improvisation.
My discovery was that I accidentally developed the pattern of in-the-moment articulation by talking to myself out loud, in the shower, in the car, when doing the laundry, whenever I’m alone.
My family thinks I’m a little crazy. My kids have said, “If you ever slip, Dad, you’re going to be one of those people walking down the street talking to themselves.” (My response is to quote Indiana Jones in Temple of Doom: “Maybe, but not today!”
Probably a decade ago, I was so worried about not knowing my material, I would practice my SagePresence presentations out loud as I’d go through the day. It was a good start, but it was basically the old standard of rehearsing, and it falls in the category of preparation.
Eventually, I got strong enough in my knowledge of my material that I stopped rehearsing my work material, but the pattern of “presenting out loud” had stuck with me, and I continued talking to myself in a different form.
I found myself practicing “explaining things out loud,” when unrelated to any specific presentation.
Without realizing, I developed a pattern. I was talking out loud as if I were in front of an audience, not for anything I was officially preparing. I was engaging in random explanations.
As questions or subjects pop in my head, if no one is around, I spontaneously burst into presentation.
- What’s your stance on dealing with bullying in the school system?
- Explain your beer flavor profile.
- Rank and defend the most important ingredients of a strong marriage.
- What are the steps for communicating when you don’t know the language?
- If you could give Apple one game-changing piece of feedback to improve the new iPhone, what would it be and why?
- How do you retouch a photo in Photoshop?
- What’s your rationale for choosing the art for your home?
Don’t create a list. It’s not an improv class. What you want is to respond to things that pop in your head, whether it’s how to talk to your kids about sex, or the safest way to work on a ladder.
What you’ll find is that thoughts impulsively race through your mind, and if you’re alone doing the dishes, grab one of those impulses and run with it as if you’re standing before an audience.
The key is explaining. Most presenting, as with most question answering, requires the art of explaining. You’re explaining your proposal, approach, idea, initiative, plan, budget, etc. It’s the art of explaining that allows you to share your reasoning and how you arrived at a point of view.
Preparation for a specific presentation is great because it connects you to your content, but imagine if you were elevating your ability to providing an explanation for anything! Build the vocal pattern of explaining your rationale in general, and you will become an on-the-fly expert in explaining yourself.
Try it in the car on your drive to a meeting. Try it when you’re cleaning the house. Try it when you’re sorting socks. (Maybe don’t try it when you’re walking down the street.) You’ll be surprised at how different the effect of out-loud explanation is when compared to the old standby of merely thinking things through.
Once you become an out loud explainer, you will find yourself ready for the next step, which is to add in a SagePresence standard – story structure. You can start explaining out loud in story structure: “Who are we talking about? What problematic situation are they in? What needs to happen? What better outcome is possible?”
This two-step “talking to yourself” process will build an incredible ability to accomplish two things. You will improve your ability to think on your feet, and you will master organizing your thoughts into a forward-moving, rational story.
Take the step that will take you to expertise in explaining yourself when you’re prepared and when you’re not, and tell us how it goes!