In the video that won’t age well, it’s three weeks from today that I’ll drop my youngest child off on the steps of a dormitory. It’s bittersweet. I’m super proud of her, but I’m going to miss her. As a dad, I’m pondering in my mind – Did I cover everything? What else did I miss? And of course I know I missed something. But with three weeks to go, I’m not going to spend the time instructing her and giving her lessons. I’m just going to enjoy every moment we’ve got together while it lasts. The same is true of speaking. When you walk up on stage, it’s too late to prepare. Showtime. When I was in college, one of my rallying cries for cramming the night before a test was, if you don’t know it by now, you’re not going to know it. The time to study for a final exam is not the night before the test. It’s all semester to learn the material.
Speaking is no different. The time to prepare for your next speaking engagement is today. It’s one of the primary reasons we were very careful to talk about communication skills and try never to say the word presentation skills. If you have a presentation skill, well, you’ll believe you can just turn that on, walk on stage, do your thing and turn it off. But communication skills are deeper. They’re how you deal with your family at the dinner table, or a clerk at the store, or your office mates during that meeting. Oh, and by the way, they weren’t very nice that we were on stage giving a keynote address or that big presentation that will determine the course of your career. But communication skills means I can practice anytime I’m speaking or typing or leaving a voicemail.
One of our instructors was at the time a prospective instructor auditioning to be one of our teachers for our classes. He had a tick that was what we tried to teach people not to do. I was very blunt with him. I said, I can’t put you on stage. As long as you still do that. It was the pesky word, “so.” Get rid of it, I’m ready to hire you tomorrow. But until you can get rid of it, I can’t put you on stage. He went home, he had two pre-teen daughters at the time. He said, “ladies, there’s a new game in town. Whenever daddy says “so” to start a sentence, I want you to interrupt me right then and tell me not to say it.” Of course, if you give an invitation to a preteen daughter to interrupt dad, anytime on the phone, in a conversation with another adult, they’re more than happy to play that game. He called me back just a few weeks later to my surprise and said, Hey, I fixed it, they’re gone. In fact, they were, they became one of our best instructors.
Your dinner table could be the best practice for your sales presentation you’ll ever have. Your interactions with your grocery store clerk could be a fantastic preparation time for that tough conversation with your boss. It’s how you control your behaviors. We want those behaviors to be automatic. We want them to just happen.
If you have to think about keeping your hand still, looking your audience in the eye, while changing your voice, and pausing for effect, my guess is you won’t do it. But if you’ve practiced those skills, they can happen without even thinking about them. Practice makes…I hope you didn’t think I was going to say perfect. Practice makes permanent. If you practice it every night at the dinner table, it’ll work in the group meeting tomorrow. But if you don’t practice the skills all the time, they’re probably not going to be available to you when you need it. Start today. Turn on that video, that voice recorder, and list your kids, or your neighbors, or a special friend. Start now to prepare your skills for when you’ll need them on the big stage.
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As a high-stakes communications expert, Alan motivates individuals and teams to build their confidence and professionalism and trains them to seamlessly handle the unexpected in ANY communications setting.
Alan is an International Keynote Speaker, Coach, Trainer, and Author who has delivered keynotes and training workshops to thousands on the impact of powerful, persuasive communication. Alan is the Executive Director and Principal Trainer of MillsWyck Communications. He is the author of Presentation Sin: The Practical Guide to Stop Offending (and Start Impressing) Your Audience and the co-author of Silver Goldfish: Loud & Clear: The 10 Keys to Delivering Memorable Business Presentations.
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