When To Rehearse and When To Shoot From the Heart

Recently, I gave a talk on Relationship Power at a big conference that required quite a bit of research prior hand and nuance during delivery.  I needed to create a one-of-a-kind talk to specifically help two groups come together, develop empathy for each other and collaborate.  As an outsider, you can’t wing this, or you’ll easily step in a cow pie with the crowd.   

And because half of my speech relates to their exact situation, it’s brand new material for me. It is not in my treasure trove of advice bits, illustrations or signature stories.  Which means that in many cases, even bullet point power point slides only serve as prompts and don’t work like a teleprompter. (PS – I never use one. Makes me too stiff and disconnected with audiences.) 

So, I rehearsed.  Not in my head, or by flipping through my power point slides…I gave the talk.  All. The. Way. Through.  With my iPad serving as my countdown clock, I gave the talk at home in my studio the week prior to the talk.  Taped it and listened to it on the plane.  It was excruciating, as I started and stopped the opening five times until I had my legs underneath me. 

Did the talk for the client the night I arrived in town, prior to having dinner.  All. The. Way. Through.  The next morning, I gave the first 20 minutes of it to my mirror at 6am.  That was where most of the custom content was. How did the talk go?  Fantastic!  Felt at ease during the talk, didn’t miss any key points, and used my examples without any bobbles or gaffes that could get someone’s back up.  Later, I received great feedback from members in the audience, as well as my sponsor. 

If you are making a really important presentation, or doing some material for the first time, rehearse your talk.  Outloud.  All. The. Way. Through.  You’ll thank me later, when you tell me about how you “killed it.”  

What should you not rehearse?  A crucial conversation.  Frequently, we face situations when we are going to have a difficult conversation with someone about an emotionally charged situation.  We might be mad at her.  It might be a disagreement that needs an airing out.  It might be a confrontation, where you are expecting answers from him. 

The worst thing you can do is rehearse for this.  Why?  You are spring loading your negative feelings as you go over it in your mind (and sometimes outloud, especially as your brush your teeth or make eye contact in your car’s rear view mirror.) The more you think or rehearse what you are going to say, the more your emotion’s get spun up. 

Also, when you rehearse, you frequently think about what she or he will say in their defense. At that point, you think of your follow up responses, and conjur up a debate or blowout in the process. Later, when you have your crucial conversation, when she replies to your charge, you’ll loudly proclaim, “I knew you were going to say that!!!!”  

And then it’s on like Donkey Kong. 

In this case, you’ll do better to wing it.  Let it play out without much pre-planning, other than to focus on what’s really important in this situation.  Are we trying to fix something that’s broken, take care of a client or keep our word?  Then that’s all the conversation should be about.  Finally, when we head into the crucial conversation, we need to remember: It’s not a performance, it’s an encounter.  

For more, read Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When the Stakes Are High