Preparation Is Good Manners

Speech prep for the Impact Equation speech. #impacteq I’m a huge fan of improv acting, when you start with nothing but a premise and more than one person just moves an idea back and forth to entertain others. I’m not especially good at it, though the concepts are partly what fuel my best talents. On stage, I love to speak from my domain knowledge and not follow a very tight script. This has served me well, and yet, I’ve been really enjoying deep preparation lately.

Preparation Can Be Beautiful

First, a lot of people will scoff when reading this. Well, of COURSE you’re supposed to prepare. But I’ll tell you: I see less and less preparation out there in the world. When I see the kinds of questions people ask me in interviews, I can tell who has prepared even a little bit versus who is just sending over some questions. I can tell the difference between companies who have records and decent client relations materials and those who just take my money.

When I speak, for instance, I love the fresh and vibrant feel of saying something for the first time. People react well to it, provided the something fresh and new is something useful to them. But in a way, by working from an improv mindset, with only some bullets and some previous concepts to guide the process, I’m not letting people get into a groove with the material I’ve created, and I’m also not giving them something to anchor on while learning their own perspective.

Professional comedians practice their material for months and months (and then years) before they have even an hour of gems. Me? I’ve been creating a unique speech for every audience with only a few pieces that repeat here and there for the last several years. As with many things, it’s somewhere in the middle of these where the excitement happens. There has to be some fresh and new but also some I’m expecting this part places in my work.

And maybe yours.

How Do You Prepare?

If you’re educating people or consulting, how do you prepare for your clients? What are you doing to make their experience unique to them? If you are selling a product, what do you need to do to get the product ready for the buyer? How do you “do your homework” before any transaction occurs?

My new audio podcast was recently added to the Stitcher network. I got a really great personal email back with my welcome information. It showed that they had done some homework, had looked me over, and knew with whom they were talking. It was a really great feeling.

To that end, I’m asking you what you do to prepare for your opportunities. What do you do to prepare in your business? How much of a ritual do you make your preparations?

I’m just curious to know where you are with it all. Are you very prepared? Not very much? And why?

One Last Thing

I’ve been pushing rather hard lately, and if you heard my request in yesterday’s newsletter, sorry to repeat. If you are thinking at all of buying The Impact Equation, the very best time to do so is this week. Why? Because it will help Julien and me immensely. I’m grateful. Please consider picking up The Impact Equation, if you want to improve how you get your ideas across a platform of value and reach a network of value. And if you already have, thank you. I’m grateful. Super grateful. Thank you! This is the last we’ll talk about it. : )

Now, talk to me about preparation. runs on the Genesis Framework

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  • Linda Adams

    I tend to be in the “not very much” and there’s a specific reason why. When I’ve tried to prepare, I’ve actually really botched it up. I was in Toastmasters. If I did a prepared speech where I spent time rehearsing it, I ended up running too long, forgetting part of the speech, etc. On the other hand, if I didn’t rehearse at all, I came within my time, and said everything I wanted to. Same thing with grocery shopping. I don’t shop with a list. When I’ve tried, I miss things that are on it, or even forget to get things added to it. But I can walk into the store, wander through it listless and pick up everything I need.

    • Chris Brogan

      You and I have had similar results. How or why? Why does it work that way for you?

  • Stephen Q Shannon

    Chris: Preparation – Noodling for as many as three days
    followed by “free writing” to “flesh” out my noodling. Then
    I make sure there are at least 24 hours where I do not noodle or free write on
    that preparation before going “live”. Ride my bike or other exercise
    during those 24 hours to clear the cobwebs. More often works for me than not.
    Thanks for asking.

  • Brad White

    I prepare a lot. Fortunately, because I teach the same class multiple times I can do the heavy lifting once and then tweak with each iteration. I think I have found works well is to blend PowerPoint with a whiteboard or big sheets of Post-It paper. This gives me structure with flexibility. I go in knowing there are certain points I want to cover but I don’t know when I want to cover them. Those are whiteboard items and it gives the class a feeling of spontaneity when, in fact, it’s careful planning followed by reactive execution.

  • Rex Williams

    The hardest part is actually practicing delivering a speech, mulitple times. We seem to be comfortable thinking, okay I’m going to say this then this, then that. But when you actually deliver it, a lot of extra words and rambling can creep in (at least for me.)
    When I was preparing to give a presentation with a consultant, she would make me (and herself) do it over and over again. The hardest thing to do was when we finished rehearsing, she would say “Again!” It was exhausting, especially after the 3rd or 4th time, but I knew it was the best thing because all the things you did wrong were fresh in your mind and you could correct them easily, rather then waiting until the next day.
    Gymnasts, pianists, and quarterbacks do the same thing – repeat until you get it right, then repeat that a bunch of times, so when performance time comes, the good stuff is automatic.
    “She makes it look so easy!”
    “I wish I could be that good.” (Do you, really? Put in the hours.)

    • Brad White

      Great comment! It dovetails one of my favorite quote: “Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.”

      I am always suspect of people that say they are better when they don’t rehearse. I wonder if their audience agrees with them.

  • Raul Colon

    A few weeks ago I was at an event where someone clearly improved the full presentation. She is awesome at what she does because I have seen most of her body of work. Sadly that attitude led her to send the message that she was so good everyone should know who she was.

    It was perceived by many as arrogant and people lost interests in what she does given that poor decision to go present without preparing.

    Today I was writing a post on business continuity and I saw this past week’s SNL skit on Pandora which you can find online. It was a funny approach at what would happen if Pandora’s servers went down so they could provide service. It was hilarious but I went a bit deeper into thinking that many businesses do exactly that because of lack of preparation.

    There are so many things we need to prepare for continuously it should be part of our nature but sadly it is always put at the last of the list when it comes to priorities.

  • Maureen E. Mc Bride

    FYI: Great improv is like great jazz—you have to knows all the rules, before you can break them in a way that works for everyone. (took two years of improv acting classes, and worked for 25 years singing jazz, know from whence I speak) My last concert, my promoter called and wanted to go out for a drink a few nights before the show. I declined saying I wanted to rehearse. She could not fathom why a “good” singer like moi` would “waste” time rehearsing without the band around. If you can’t sing the song without the band around, without the lights and the audience pumping you up, IMHO you are not really a professional.

    • Leslie Van Zee

      I, too, think of the process of improvising jazz whenever it comes to doing things like public speaking. In jazz, you practice improv by working and reworking short bits of ideas over and over again until you can string them together in many combinations on the fly.
      Speaking extemporaneously used to intimidate me, until I realized that as long as I can go somewhere private (my car, a restroom) and try to get my key points nailed down, delivering to an audience is no problem.

  • JosephRatliff

    I think we have to define “preparation” for ourselves first… because you can do too much preparation just as easily as not preparing enough.

    For each person, “being prepared” means something different.

    Plus, can we really account for every single variable when we are preparing? Do we really want to (we could get stuck in preparation mode and never get out)?

    For me, preparation means giving yourself just enough information about the situation at hand (e.g. a speech), but allowing for the fact you are probably going to make a mistake (small or big)… and accepting that.

    • Chris Brogan

      You’re right about that. It’s not MY model. It’s yours. Great add.

  • Mary E. Ulrich

    I ALWAYS overprepare. Part of it is insecurity, part of it is trying to match my message to this one audience, part of it is my passion–there is never enough time to say everything that needs to be said–and I need to stay on topic. I outline, I practice with timers, I make slides, I do even more research for the latest stuff, I have handouts and reference material. I drive everyone nuts around me–okay, I tend to do that even when I’m not giving a speech– but you are right. There is nothing like an audience reacting to your speech and telling you they now think differently, or they have a new direction, or they are ready to solve one of their problems…. that makes it all worth while.

    • Chris Brogan

      Really! Neato. I like to hear it.

  • Brian Cotlove

    I think you touched on two things here under the umbrella of “preparing”: practice and research. Often both are needed…sometimes one more than the other. I’m big on the research aspect, but probably need to focus more on the practice aspect, often opting for a “just winging it” mentality.

    • Chris Brogan

      I’m cruddy at research, but those other two? Yes. : )

  • Mary McD

    My level of preparation changes with what the deliverable is. For a straight consulting gig where I’m going in to review and hopefully improve/strengthen their process, I do a lot of research on the company’s products, but not on their method. I purposefully want to see the actual work with ‘fresh’ eyes and ears, without preconception.
    When I’m delivering training that I’ve done before, I make sure I have quiet uninterrupted time, then run through (silently) the slides, reminding myself what order they’re in, what stories link backwards and forwards, and how to bring in exercises and examples that are relevant to the audience.
    When I’m delivering training for the first time, I set aside 4 hours of prep for every hour I’m teaching – to research the latest/greatest in that topic, to bring in quotes, vid snaps, and other ‘outside’ material, and to add my unique content. When I think I’m done, I run it out loud, recording myself. That’s very revealing – I can always ‘hear’ when I need to provide more definitions, context, or stories; or when I’m rambling too long on a minor subtlety.
    And finally, when I’m auditing, I do my ‘reading’ ahead of time, to make the audit more efficient. I’ll read prior reports, current procedures, and customer complaints and their responses to get a sense of where the org has struggled in the past, what improvements I can expect to see implemented, and how they are doing in general. This is all before I set foot on their property.

  • Steve Hartkopf

    Starting with the end in mind: I pre-ordered The Impact Equation, thanked Chris for his years of help and idea-sharing, and got a very nice email in return.

    My comments are: (1) I have one (super-) key point per slide in case time gets tight. (2) My first job is to connect emotionally with the audience and it takes research to deeply understand their issues, so I do the research. (3) I ask lots of questions during the presentation and use the audience’s answers, or just their body-language, to customize my presentation but never forgetting my key points. (4) Finally, I rehearse as much as necessary, which can be 1-time or 10-times, and then spend the rest of my pre-presentation time building up my confidence.

  • Melissa Ng

    My ability to improvise usually depends on the type of situation.

    If it’s in my store, I have no problem just winging it since I’m so familiar with my work. For me, I think the big difference is being able to see and read people’s faces. I can easily adapt myself if I’m speaking one-on-one or with a small group.

    If I have to make a speech on stage, I go crazy with preparation. The thought of not being able to see anyone’s faces also unnerves me…

    My preparation involves researching (too much), writing whatever is on my mind, trashing it, getting frustrated, freaking out, starting over and making unnecessarily long outlines, realizing that I’m over-complicating things (as always), having a mini revelation, and finally completing my final draft.

    It’s safe to say that practicing my material follows a similar path. But hey, I still get things done.

  • Stacia Short Baguio

    Preparation is everything! Practice, rehearsal, and organization makes the difference between a dynamic and persuasive presentation and an inarticulate rambling fest. Probably the most valuable classes I took in university were forensics and public speaking. You need to have confidence that you know your stuff when you’re presenting or even pitching an idea. I’m willing to put as much time as it takes to knock it out of the park. Lack of of preparation in both academic and professional arenas has never worked for me, and I’m sure
    audiences can tell the difference.
    Like the pp below, I struggle to edit content because when I am excited and passionate, I get attached to every tidbit and it pains me to cut. Sometimes it helps to have an extra set of eyes to reel me in.
    Great post, thanks! i will definitely be back here to check out more of your awesome tips.

  • Kim Tronic

    Preparation is such a crucial part of fostering a healthy client relationship. If you go into a meeting unprepared, you look foolish. Clients like to know that you’ve done your homework. With information being so readily available, all you have to do is hop online and start researching! And having plans be laid-out and clear beforehand is also essential….HOWEVER, I do think having spur-of-the-moment ideas can add a creative spontaneity.

    Having said that, I’m a slacker in regards to my personal life. I leave all things to the last minute, but that’s when I produce the best material! I think the pressure of knowing you have to get something done ASAP can push you to a new creative edge. So now I’m going to turn in my homework…..30 minutes before it’s due…..

  • Cathy Tibbles

    I prepare reaaaaally well for speaking and mostly well for writing. I edit ruthlessly and pack as much info as possible into my time. This is very intentional – there is precious little I value more than my clients time/ attention. I prepare ver batim but deliver off of bullet points. I could go from my hip/heart but I don’t want to miss something that I previously decided was important. That’s how I do it.

  • Hisocial

    Hi Chris,

    I’ve just heard a podcast from socialmediaexaminer, where you had an interview with Michael Stelzner. I found it interesting and I decided to visit your site. Just wanted to say hi!

    Best regards

  • Emily Foshee

    HI Chris, I like your idea of being prepared yet spontaneous. Its a refreshing combination that prevents a speaker from getting boring and stale. And, a speaker is much easier to listen to when they’re not reciting a canned speech. Thanks for reminding me to be more spontaneous when giving speeches and interviews.

  • Casey Gollan

    Whenever I’m giving speeches I prepare and practice many times before starting. However, I find that new stories or little tidbits always pop into my mind while I am giving the speech – and I always make sure to work them in.

    I tend to advise new speakers to stick with the script though, until they feel more comfortable in front of an audience. Once the nerves go away and they can think clearly while speaking, then its okay to be a little impulsive.

  • David Mattichak

    Cato the Elder said that we should grasp the subject and the words would follow and I believe that the best preparation is to thoroughly know your product, why it adds value to people’s lives and, most importantly why you believe in it enough to spend your time selling it. If you can answer those things for yourself then you will be able to say something about it that people will believe and hopefully remember.

  • OBVAVirtualAssistant

    There is a very
    famous quote “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” It’s
    so true. Be it business or daily routine work. If preparations are done the
    work seems to be done so smoothly and with minimum of pressure but if there is
    no preparation it’s a complete chaos that’s my personal experience. Thanks
    Chris and yes I have started the 7 days try it is actually very useful.

  • Gayle Baigelman

    This piece resonates for me as a nonprofit professional, especially in terms of donor management. Doing my homework (preparation) before I connect with a donor can make all the difference in the world in terms of stewardship. Knowing/acknowledging the shared history and connections (deep preparation) provides a anchor for a conversation that can then take a more improvisational tone. And by the way, a little homework/personalization goes a long way. People/audiences like to be recognized as unique and will reward you when you acknowledge them as such. I’m constantly amazed by stories from donors of organizations they’ve given money to, who don’t prepare and arm themselves with information before a discussion and then put their foot in their mouths or seem ignorant or unprofessional in the eyes of their donors.

    Preparation is the absolute key to any good improvisation.

  • Clint A. Butler

    After being in the Army for 21 years (I am retiring officially in April 2013), I have learned the value of preparation. As we always have to wrok as a team in order to accomplish the mission. There have been times when we were in a hurry, mostly due to something we created, and that has us forgo our rehearsals. It was always those missions the lasted the longest and were the hardest to execute.

    Now as I transfer that over into my own small business I realized early on that the process was really the same. Whether is was putting some new content on my site. To making a phone call to make a sale, it was all the same. When I didn’t prepare it took forever. And it was always harder than it had to be.

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