On this episode, I’m dispelling a myth that pops up all the time in the speaking world, and even among many of my clients. Often, speakers say:
Sound familiar? The truth is, preparing your talk beforehand is one of the best gifts you can give to yourself and your audience. In this episode, I talk about how to strike the right balance between giving a totally unprepared speech and an over-scripted rehearsal. You might not need to prepare for hours, but a little prep can go a very long way.
You are listening to the Speak So It Matters podcast, episode number 25.
Welcome to Speak So It Matters. A podcast that helps leaders and entrepreneurs release anxiety and feel clear and confident when delivering presentations on any stage. Tune in each week and learn how to attract amazing clients and enjoy serving as the speaker you know you’re meant to be. Let’s do this my friends.
Hello speaker friends. Today we’re going to dispel a myth that I hear from way too many people. The myth goes something like this, and I’m pretty much quoting here, “I’ve realized that I do so much better when I speak if I actually just show up and let it flow in the moment. It’s actually when I prepare, that I end up stumbling over my words and just not being as engaging.”
So let’s get this out of the way right now. The truth is, winging it doesn’t work for almost anyone. Yep. Even the people who say that to me, which is actually kind of common. So, I hear it a lot. I know it’s out there. You may have heard it. Maybe you’ve even said it or thought it. So I’m gonna tell you why this is the case. Why winging it doesn’t work. And really, what to do instead. Especially in those times when you feel like you have to wing it for various reasons. And I’ll talk a little bit about why people are spreading this myth and even thinking it for themselves.
Okay, so let’s dive in about why winging it doesn’t work for almost anyone. And even really those exceptions, I’ve got things to say about that.
So I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, it’s called Caffeine For The Soul, with Michael Neill a few days ago. Michael Neill’s a coach, author, and he’s a frequent public speaker. In this particular episode, he was talking about this experiment he did, I think it was a few years ago, where he decided he was going to stop over preparing for upcoming presentations. Or that’s how he described it. He’d spent so many years planning out his talks in grand detail. Like, he’d break it down into little sections by the minute, I believe he said. And he felt like it was just getting stale. Like it just wasn’t his best work. So he swung the pendulum the other way and began just showing up and winging it, as they say. And he did this, I think he said, for a whole year. And his results from this experiment were pretty interesting. Sometimes the coolest stuff came to him in the moment of delivery. It’s stuff that he knew that he probably wouldn’t have thought of if he weren’t just staying super open to what was arriving in the moment. He’d say and do things that he wouldn’t have said or done if he had gone with his previous method of preparing. That’s what would happen sometimes.
Other times, it was a little more meh, or kind of you know, just as good as it might’ve been if he had of prepared, and then other times still, it just really didn’t go well.
As I was listening to the podcast, while I was getting ready, sort of like, I was feeling this sinking feeling in my belly. Because I hear people talk about this whole idea of, you know, you don’t need to prepare, stop preparing, just show up. And be present with your audience.
And he was basically talking about, or I thought he was leading toward how unproductive speech planning was for him. And I was afraid he was just gonna be like you need to go out there and stop preparing and be present and that will bring the best stuff forward. But that’s actually not what he ended up saying. His take away that doing some planning and prep, getting at least really clear on the point that he was making for example, was essential, but that he didn’t need to script out his whole talk. In fact, that didn’t allow him to be as present and flexible in his speaking. And this my friends is beautiful advice. It’s so right on.
And this advice can be misunderstood, and it often is misunderstood by rising speakers. And this might happen partly because no one wants to prepare for a talk. Well, at least most people I know don’t wanna prepare for a talk, even I don’t really love preparing for a talk a lot of the time, or at least until I get into the flow of it. We kinda want it to be true, that preparation isn’t important.
It also gets misunderstood because there are very experienced speakers who’ve been sharing their methods for like, decades, who say things like, I no longer prepare my talks. I just walk onto the stage and let my words flow in connection with my audience.
I remember Wayne Dyer, who is one of my beloved mentors from afar saying this. And I loved to listen to him speak. All of his thought leadership had a profound effect on my life. And you know what, this approach makes sense for Wayne Dyer. And in a growing way, maybe for Michael Neill, it seems, at least as he describes it. And maybe in a bit by bit growing way, it will for you too. Or it does for you too. Depending on where you are in your speaking adventure. But probably you and I, weren’t not quite there yet. We’re on the path to that.
I remember listening to a conversation between Liz Gilbert and Marie Forleo, in which Liz Gilbert, a very experienced, highly paid, well-respected speaker, I see her on the circuit in lots of different conferences where I attend. She describes her experience of preparing for her Ted Talk. And here’s what she said, this is a quote from her conversation with Marie Forleo. She said, “It’s a huge amount of work, the only way I can learn a speech is to walk it into my bones. I was walking five miles a day on the side of the road, giving that speech for four months. That’s how much I put into it. There’s no hack.” There’s no hack, she says. And it’s true. There really isn’t a hack for having the kind of impact and making that kind of powerful difference with your audience.
However, if there’s a hack, it looks like this, spend decades sharing a particular message and not just sharing that message, but connecting with audiences around that message. See, there are levels of competency here. There’s a competency around the content of what you’re sharing, and that’s something that you know, you may have built up way before you started speaking. Which is awesome, it sets you up with a really great foundation. But there’s another level of competency that only comes from continuing to refine that message with an audience, with an audience in mind. For an audience. And learning through that audience what works to serve them best. And really we do that through prep and practice.
There’s a level of mastery that comes with decades of sharing a message. Not only having it live inside of us but also the thousands of hours connecting with audiences through that message, testing out what works, refining and shifting and learning. In the meantime, the truth is, we need to prepare. Preparation is the greatest gift we give to ourselves and our audience.
Just know that as you prepare, you are moving yourself toward the kind of mastery that eventually allows you to show up, like, Wayne Dyer describes or as Michael Neill is describing, or like amazing speakers, like, Oprah and Maya Angelou and so many other beautiful thought leaders and eloquent speakers. That comes from time devoted to the craft of sharing a message that serves.
I know I share a lot of resources to help you prepare to the fullest. I want you to have everything you need to make your difference with your mission and your message. But let’s talk about the essentials for preparation. Maybe for those times when you just don’t have very much time. Or you just don’t have it in you to do the full prep. We’re gonna talk about just three essential elements.
The first is, what is your core message? Like, what is that one important idea that you’re sharing with this talk? And this may seem really obvious but it is commonly, commonly missed in talks, especially when people are winging it, or going off the cuff. What is that one point you want them to walk away with, that will change things for them? Make sure this idea has a juice. It should take a stand. It should share your point of view, as well as indicate the price or reward involved. So it might sound like parents you’ve got to talk with your kids about sex, or they’re going to learn from friends and could risk dangerous choices. Or, it could sound like, as an entrepreneur, you must be willing to risk failure, otherwise, you’ll never know what was possible for your venture.
One more idea. If you wanna have healthy animals on your farm, you’ve got to feed them balanced nutrition. A little nod to my semi farm life over here. So you need to know, what is that core message of this talk? What are you focusing on with all of this great content?
The second thing you really need to have is, what are the main points? And when you frame these out, even quickly just sketched out on a little piece of paper, or a sticky note, as Michael Neill says he does now. These help keep you focused on that main idea, but also give your audience kind of a structure to carry with them. You may have heard me talk about this, like literally, they’re just putting things in their shopping bag right? They’re like, oh, oh there’s some evidence. Oh, there’s a good thing that I need to do. So, here are some examples, for the talk about parents talking with teenagers about sex, you could jot down, number one, take time alone where they can ask questions and you can share stories and things you’ve learned, being careful not to overshare and turn them off. Number two, give them books that cover the essentials, then check in with them later. Number three, after you watch movies together, discuss the characters choices in relation to sexual safety, or whatever else you wanna talk about. So you see, you’re just jotting these down, like okay, these are the three things that I know I wanna touch on in support of this main idea, this core message of my talk.
And then finally, an important thing to jot down in your quick planning, is what is your call to action? What do you want them to think, feel and do as a result of your talk? For example, I want them to sign up for my weekly newsletter, the talk for parents and teens. Or I want them to take one bold move on behalf of their business when they leave the session. Or it could be I want them to buy our balanced farm animal food, or whatever. So, knowing this call to action allows you to provide the right support, of course, like a coupon for your animal feed or a postcard with a link to your newsletter, or whatever supports your goal. So doing that quick prep ahead of time allows you to come with other things that support your goals as a speaker.
It goes without saying, of course, that your goals are on behalf of them getting what they want too, of course. That’s always what we’re doing. As servant speakers, as people who are on a mission to serve others through our speaking. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have particular goals as well. And those kind of goals make so much sense, right, for being able able to nurture the relationship going forward and serve them further, beyond the room in which you are speaking.
So, as I said earlier, Michael Neill says he now maps out his ideas on a sticky note for talks. I venture to say that most of us aren’t quite there yet. I don’t know if that’s true for you, but maybe it will be soon, even if you’re not. I tend to use a, like, at least a half sheet of paper, that’s if I really wanna do a quick sketch, but most of the time I actually use a full sheet. I use the only presentation outline you’ll ever need, which you know you can get free. And we’ll put a link to it in the show notes. But I actually print that out or, actually I have stacks of them, and I just grab it and I will jot it down just with a pencil, like what are the three main points that I wanna cover? What is my core message? What is my thesis? Sometimes I call it the thesis or it says that on the outline. What is my call to action? And I just map those things out. And if I have some time, I jot down those sub-points, you know, as you’ll see on the only presentation outline you’ll ever need. A quick story that I know I wanna share, but the prep can really be that fast and not take very long.
Now, this isn’t what I recommend all the time, in fact, most of the time, it is absolutely in your best interest, the best interest of your audience, and really the best interest of your mastery around speaking and thought leadership journey, that you do a deeper dive on preparing. But it is possible to prepare quickly so that you’re not quite winging it, but that you can still serve even when you’re in a time crunch or just don’t have the focus to do it.
Whatever you use, know that spending some concentrated time planning out your talk will go a long way toward making sure that the content that you share is of the most value for this particular audience. Especially if you include some time on audience analysis, so essential to great service as a speaker.
While I totally believe in accessing our intuition, I know that we can support our intuition and our rich audience connection with some really thoughtful prep and practice. It truly is a gift that we give ourselves as speakers and our audience. And this devoted learning around how to share our ideas in a way that truly serves our audience does lead us toward that embodied ability to serve as a speaker and a thought leader at a level of mastery that over time, gives us room to maybe not wing it exactly, but to trust what lives in our body, and our ability to connect that with those we serve through our speaking.
So the truth is, winging it doesn’t work for almost anyone. And really, even those exceptions aren’t winging it either. They carry a master that comes from years of thoughtful preparation and planning.
So, I went over the basics here so you can prepare well, even when you don’t have much time or focus. But you know, I’ve created a guide for you that gives you all of that and then some. The only presentation outline you’ll ever need is a part of that guide. It’s a perfect quick prep template that just helps you organize your ideas quickly, just as I described I use it many times. So just go to MichelleBarryFranco.com/start, and you can download the guide that includes the only presentation outline you’ll ever need right there immediately.
Alright my friends, that’s it for this week. May you honor your beautiful message with the time and preparation it deserves and enjoy the journey into mastery as a speaker and thought leader. You know I am always cheering you on. Until next week, never forget, you were made for this. I know because you know.
Thanks for listening to this episode of Speak So It Matters podcast. If what you heard here today was useful, you’ll love the free guide I’ve created for you at speaksoitmatters.com/yes. Not only will you get immediate access to our power and grace speakers tool kit, including the only presentation outline you’ll ever need, but you’ll also receive weekly updates with our best resources as they’re created. I can’t wait to see you out there shining your beautiful light and changing lives with your message.