I don’t like to practice my stuff. Not to worry though. I’ll just wing it!
Having observed many great corporate leaders from all over the world in my executive briefing center work is my inspiration! They are polished, have presence and take the stage with confidence. And, in preparation for briefings with sales account teams, I was told that these leaders wouldn’t need any prep time, would use no formal presentation and would just, like I’m sure I can do, wing it. That must be the secret!
But guess what? Many of these inspirational folks who decided to just wing it looked like they were….winging it.
Contrast their apparent powers of impromptu with those executives who made time to prepare. These considerate leaders had their Audience in mind. They clearly outlined what they wanted to share, customized examples and stories, even put a graphical reference to the hosting company into their visuals. They too were polished, present and confident on the platform.
The difference between the “Wing Its” and the solid Actors (authentic communicators who prepare) wasn’t only in the strength of their message. It was the care they showed their Audience.
Prepping and practicing not only shows care. It helps train your body to deliver the message.
I love what Judith Shahn, my voice colleague in the Graduate School of Drama at the University of Washington, Seattle and now with her Vibrant Speaking consultancy would teach as she highlighted the process of speaking. Judy talked about “Mind, Middle, Mouth”. You get a thought in your mind, breathe into your middle and then eventually, with the help of hundreds of muscles articulate the thought. It takes less a second in most of our conversations.
But add the pressured Atmosphere of moving a customer to a smart business decision and your sub-second-take-it-for-granted delivery process is at risk. You’ll blow the Mind part if you don’t have thought-flow in place. Anxiety can mess with the Middle. And it’s funny (or actually, not) how the Mouth becomes mushy when adrenaline flows.
Is this a muscle memory thing where repetition trains the muscles to perform so they actually remember what to do, especially under pressure? It may be odd to think about speaking, to any size Audience, as a muscular activity but there it is—from breathing to articulating, a bunch of muscles are involved. They may need some exercise.
I wonder how many times you’d recommend practicing the following lines (edited to protect client identity) before an audition, just like I got to do last week. It’s for a commercial and you’re popping over to the casting director’s office to look directly in a camera with your memorized line:
We are people who see possibility where there’s none.
And reap the rewards of our own hard work.
And keep moving forward.
We are Widgets Incorporated. And this is what we do.
Pretty easy, huh? Not much to memorize. No tough words and pretty good thought-flow.
Now add some Atmosphere: Sitting in a room with other Actors waiting (and waiting) your turn; many of the Actors look more right for the part than you do; you find out you have to go face the camera with a kid as your scene partner and the kid is cuter than you; there’s no place to rehearse.
If you didn’t practice diligently, out loud, maybe in front of your own camera many times to get down rhythm, articulation, word emphasis, facial expression—all that stuff that bugs corporate and stage Actors alike—you’re going to be sweating or shaking through your opportunity.
As an alternative to winging it, prep and practice may look like:
Writing down your stuff. There’s something about that good ol’ pen-to-paper technique that gets the musculature going.
Talking it through with a trusted other. Just sound it out, the beginning of training your body to deliver.
Saying it out loud on your own. People seem to feel funny about this, talking to your empty dining room chairs as do I. But the darn thing works. Yeah, out loud as many times as it take.
Give your “Mind, Middle and Mouth” a chance to learn what you want your Audience to understand and act upon.
Or, just wing it.
Your stage. Your performance. And with prep and practice, you’re on!