When your opportunity knocks, will you be ready?

This week marks one of my favorite times of year: the beginning of college football! While I never played the sport, I’ve become a big fan, and I follow it as my schedule allows (which is less and less with each passing year).

Last year I had the pleasure of working a game for ESPN3, which afforded me the opportunity to sit in the press box between the play-by-play guy and the color commentator. I watched them with fascination. I didn’t tell them what I did for a living until after the game. They were kind enough to grant me an interview.


The play-by-play guy, Roy Philpott (@RoyPhilpott ), started by calling high school football games for free. He has done a wide variety of TV and radio sports. But he shared with me the piece of advice his first producer gave him. Just seconds before he was about to go on air the first time, the producer told him in his headset: “Don’t stink – it’ll be on YouTube by games end and you’ll never work again!” Talk about pressure! And pretty great advice for any communicator. Don’t be bad at it.

George Wrighster (@georgewrighster ) was an Oregon Duck tight end who played professionally before injuries put him in the broadcast booth. His secret? That night I observed him was his very first game. I thought he did great, but especially considering it was his first effort. I dug and found out a little more. Turns out he had been to broadcast school, an exclusive opportunity that accepted only 40 of 1000 applicants. What allowed him to have what it takes for that exclusive club? George had created a studio in his basement, bought a headset, and watched 100 games while recording his commentary. He listened to them all to discover how he could get better. George called 100 games before he got accepted to school to learn how to broadcast and get his first job.

There are two takeaways to learn from these men and apply to ANY speaking situation:

  • You lose credibility and opportunity if you are not competent at communication. You might get the interview, the opportunity to pitch to the VC guy/gal, or an audience with the president, but if you mess it up, you’ll not get your desired result or another chance.
  • You must practice before you need it. When the chance calls, you have to be ready. It’s too late to prepare on your way to the conference.

I also observed a lot of the skills we teach in our seminars. Even though the image of Roy & George on air was limited to a few minutes (an intro before the game, a halftime talk, and a summary after the game), they spoke to each other conversationally, with animated gestures and vocal inflections on even the most mundane of plays. They paused, changed their speaking rate, and adapted to a changing story line. It’s more improv than narration. Their skills could be put to use in any phone call, webinar, meeting, presentation, or speech.

Could anyone do it? Probably. If they put in the time. Roy states, “The #1 skill is preparation. You’ve got to be prepared. You have to be able to commit yourself to be the play-by-play guy. To memorize the players. To understand what they’re going to do. To watch film coming in. You have to put in the prep work. And if you don’t do that, you don’t have a chance.”

“Whoa Nellie!” That advice will work anywhere!

This article was published in the September 2015 edition of our monthly speaking tips email, Communication Matters.  Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today and receive our FREE handout, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.”  

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