I once had a colleague who said that everyone is in two businesses: their own, and show biz. He didn't go far enough. Every business is show business.
Business would be impossible without acting skills. Theater artists must take the imaginary circumstances of the script and act in a way that makes the audience believe them. Likewise, business communicators must take the features and functions of what they have to sell and induce belief in their prospects and customers.
As a business speaker, even if you believe in your idea, product, or service, you have to find the words that will imprint on the mind of the listener. And if you don't believe in what you are selling, it gets a little harder: you've got to scratch and claw your way into belief.
How? How do you hoist yourself into contagious belief? The simplest way is to rehearse. And the only scientifically proven way is to rehearse under performance-like pressure.
Rehearsal = Repetition
Through repetition, you will transfer the words from your pre-frontal cortex to your cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for coordinating lightning-fast mental and physical tasks, like playing The Flight of the Bumble Bee by Rimsky-Korsakov on the piano.
Believe me, everyone who's learning a new piece of music knows you go slow before you go fast. When the cerebellum takes over, you are in the zone, also known as the state of flow.
Rehearsal = Attitude
Rehearsal helps you find the thoughts behind the words. Where to go slow. Where to emphasize. Where to pause.
Rehearsal helps you find the attitude, the gestures that make you feel connected with yourself and the subject. If you're not turning yourself on when you talk you're turning the audience off.
Rehearsal = Balancing Act
Here's a question for you. Which is more convincing: a speaker's emotional appeal or her reasoning? Isn't that the same as asking which blade in a pair of scissors does the cutting? You need both.
Intelligent people will dismiss conviction without clear thinking. And reasoning without an emotional investment by the speaker is busywork--boring, pedantic, and inconsequential to all. You need both--reasoning and conviction.
Reason makes them think. Emotion makes them act.
Rehearsing aloud, you acquire both. And they feed each other. You find words that bring your thoughts to life, and when your thoughts are lively, you grasp them with greater conviction and infuse them with passion. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Eloquence is reason set on fire." Rehearsal can help you find the reason and set it on fire.
Finding Time to Rehearse
Now, my clients are busy people, and I'm sure you're busy too. So how can you find time to rehearse?
Sitting in your office mumbling to yourself as you go over your slides may be a decent start, but the next step is to get up on your feet, project the slides, and say what you plan to say for each slide. You can do this alone.
But then you have to corral at least two people to be an audience, people who can tell you what you're doing well and what you need to change. This is where you will be tested, because you will be doing the only scientific thing we know about how to become a better communicator: rehearse under performance-like pressure.
Here are 7 excuses why most people say they can't rehearse, and 7 snarky counter arguments that I hope will get you up on your feet to practice.
- No time! (He's making slides five minutes before show time, making his performance slide.)
- No need! (She's done the same talk a thousand times; her suit could make it, and often does.)
- No sense! (He thinks rehearsal makes him stale. Without it, he's cooked.)
- No standards! (Everybody in her company/industry is mediocre. Why should she be any different?)
- No ego! (He doesn't want to experience the awkwardness and vulnerability of finding his own voice, alone or in front of colleagues. Wimp!)
- No show! (She thinks showmanship is unprofessional, which smacks of sour grapes. She's probably afraid she doesn't have the gene.)
- No guts! (If he doesn't rehearse, he'll have an excuse when his talk fails.)
A good presentation can make a career. A bad one can leave you clinging to the suburbs of success for years to come. Actors get a month; we only get a few days.
Let us remember that business without show business is no business. Rehearsal makes our thinking crisper, our language more vivid, and our passion a better ally. Without rehearsal, we have no show.
If you have any sense, you'll rehearse.