The last few weeks have felt like I was playing Whac-a-Mole.  Travel.  Back-to-back-to-back training programs.  Coaching sessions.  The holidays.  Visiting family.  Sickness.  It’s all been there.  But I also had several new or altered programs to develop.  This has put a strain on my time and mental energy to devote to the process.


In our workshops, it usually isn’t more than an hour before someone makes the comment that the key to speaking success is preparation.  While we advocate for solid preparation in every phase of speaking (And business. And life.), the reality of our communication is that we often don’t have time to prepare.  Most of our communication is done in the moment.  I don’t get the chance to ask for a few hours to prepare comments when my wife walks in and says, “We have to talk!”  I can’t tell a prospect on the phone that I’ll call them back in an hour with three well-formed points and a poignant opening story.  There isn’t the chance to suspend a training program to research a great icebreaker and begin again tomorrow.


I rarely deliver a new program that I don’t wish I had more time to prepare for.  I always think that one more example or exercise or story would make it better.  And it probably would.  But time and energy are in limited supply.  Operating on fumes isn’t the mental place to develop great content.  What then do you do when you can’t fully develop your talk, program, meeting notes or visuals?  Three ideas:


man having anxiety when speaking


Settle on your One Thing and a Structure 

It’s easy to get bogged down in details and minutiae and polishing slides.  But before you even make the first slide or write the first line of content, make sure that your core message and framework are solid.  When you are racing to add content and complete your presentation, it’s easy to mix metaphors and add elements because “they worked before”.  But if your audience can’t repeat what you said, then communication has failed.  Work hard to find that One Thing you want them to repeat and a solid (repeatable) framework that every detail can live inside (side note: that’s exactly how I write these newsletters – forming a big idea and an outline before I start pounding out prose.)  The time spent getting this nailed down will save you time in the long run.


Less is more

You’re an expert.  That’s why you were asked to speak, lead the meeting, or conduct the training.  There is always something else you could share.  But resist the urge to go too deep, especially if you can’t really refine our first tip above.  One of my favorite questions to ask people in the planning process is “How long did it take you to learn what you know?”  And then, when we realize you only have 50 minutes to speak, it becomes obvious that complete detail is not possible.  


Another jewel I discovered in corporate training is that people will NEVER complain if you let them out early.  In fact, they usually sing your praises.  This won’t work if you’re teaching elementary school (you can’t just dismiss the class) or are in a position to fill time until the next event/speaker/program, but it’s better to have people so enthralled with you that they invite you back rather than droning on and having them wish you had finished some time ago.  I consistently underestimate how long it will take to speak and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve just run out of content. 


Don’t let on

This is hard to do, especially for new presenters.  But the audience should never be given any insight into the thoroughness of your preparation and feelings about your effort.  Phrases like, “I ran out of time” or “I didn’t get to look this up” or “I just don’t feel like I was able to pull this together” are demotivating to listeners.  Stand and deliver like it was your best effort ever.  Audiences amazingly pick up on these subtleties and when you act like it’s your best effort, more times than not they praise you like it was your best effort.


This last point brings up an interesting truth.  When you climb on stage, it’s too late to prepare any more.  The skills you need are best developed between your engagements.  But it’s hard to practice when there isn’t an urgent need.  The time to practice your skills and learn new ones isn’t the day or week before you step on stage.  Develop the skills (now?) and you’ll have them when they are needed.  Those skills include developing a system of content development as well as learning the delivery skills to handle yourself in every situation, time slot, topic, and audience (Side note #2: we’ll have online resources for for ALL elements of speaking soon, but we have skill workshops you can take right now)


You can always use more time to prepare.  But you rarely get it.  Do your best and deliver what you know with the best skills possible. 


Communication Matters.  What are you saying?


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

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