3 Ways to Sound Prepared, Even When You Aren’t
by Robin Sacks
Woodrow Wilson was once asked how long he needed to prepare a speech.
“That depends on the length of the speech,” answered the President. “If it is a 10-minute speech, it takes me all of two weeks to prepare it; if it is a half hour speech, it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want to, it requires no preparation at all. I am ready now.”
Over the past 150 years, similar quotes have been attributed to Mark Twain, Thomas B. Macaulay, and Abraham Lincoln.
The idea here is that we can open our mouths and ramble anytime we are called upon to do so; but, of course, that disorganized rambling will never have us seen by others as effective communicators.
We live in a world that is fast paced and seems to be moving, some days, more quickly than we are. We don’t always have that time to prepare as much as we would like.
But here’s some good news.
If you learn to prep smarter, you can show-up sounding clear, concise, and get things communicated in a confident way, regardless of the situation or time frame.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when you are asked to speak about, present on, or have a conversation about just about anything, and you don't have a lot of time to prepare.
- Get to the point. Most people tend to overload their communication. Contrary to what you might think, you rarely need a large amount of information to make your case, prove your point, or make a suggestion. What you need is to keep it simply, make it easy to understand, and easy to apply. You do that by not getting bogged down in details. You don’t need to prepare three or four examples; one or two will get the job done. You don’t need a ton of stats; you need one of two that are mind-blowing or that will at least move your listeners to action. Keep it simple and clear. Remember, less is more.
- Include your audience in the conversation. You can be in complete control of the conversation while bring your listeners into it. It’s like conducting an orchestra. Let them do some of the heavy lifting for you. If you are asked to speak about something last minute, get a couple of talking points together and walk into the room thinking like a master facilitator instead of a presenter. You begin the conversation and ask for appropriate input as you lead the discussion. Others will often make you look good because they can bring things into the conversation you may not have ever thought of, but you were the one who was standing in front of the room when the conversation happened. The perception is that you made that happen, which you did.
- Think in pictures instead of words. So often, what gets people nervous about having to speak in front of others is that they didn’t have time to prepare the words. If they don’t have a ‘script,’ it can get nerve-wracking quickly. Solve that by thinking about what your topic looks like. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words. Help your audience see what you are talking about. For example, If you have to walk in and explain a process, you don’t need a Power Point deck or a lot of prep. If you have a sense of the process, literally walk the group through it. See it in your own mind, step into the picture, and describe it. What will magically happen is your body language, gestures, facial expressions and vocal intonation will support your message and literally draw a picture for your audience. It’s how your brain and body work. (Don’t believe me? Ask someone to describe an auto accident they were once in, and watch what happens with their gestures and voice as they go back in their minds to a picture and describe it to you.)
By accepting that, even when you don’t have a lot of time to prepare, you can still be an effective communicator, you give yourself a chance for a positive outcome, regardless of the situation. Use these three “tricks” the next time you are crunched for time, and discover how doing less can get you more.