You’re about to go on stage in front of 3,000 delegates.
To do something well outside your comfort zone.
Somebody else wrote the words.
And you need to memorise every one of them.
To raise the bar further, you’re surrounded by the best in the business.
So how do you prepare for this 60-second test of your confidence?
Which can enhance your reputation.
Or make you look very foolish?
This is a situation our clients say they fear most.
Whether running courses in the Middle East or the heart of Scotland.
The answer’s almost always the same.
Delivering words written by somebody else makes people scared.
Yet that’s what I did for 25 years as a radio and TV newsreader.
Which leads us to our first rule.
As a newsreader, your job is to read over the words as often as you can before going on air.
So if you want to build confidence, go over the words as often as you can.
But as a newsreader, you normally have the words in front of you.
This time I need to memorise them.
We normally advise against that.
This time, it’s my only option.
Last week, I interviewed the Chief Executive of a company in front of 200 of his staff.
We met at 0800 to run through the format from the stage.
We would be presenting from there less than two hours later.
It’s worth getting up at 0600 to ensure you reach the venue in plenty of time for a rehearsal.
So when you go ‘live’, it’s the second time in quick succession you’ve presented in the same spot.
For this latest challenge, I’m allowed to rehearse my delivery just three times on stage.
Without any opportunity to stop and start again.
Too few occasions for my liking.
Normally in the form of tongue-twisters.
Or slides that annoy the presenter.
Because they’re confusing.
The answer to the problem is always the same.
Remove obstacles in your path.
Before they trip you up.
At this event, I ask the organisers to let me deliver it my way.
Rather than the way they had planned.
We hear from many businesses on presentation skills courses.
Discussing times they unsuccessfully pitched for new business.
How they ‘ran out of time for rehearsal’.
Here’s how we respond to that.
We all need to make adequate time for rehearsal.
When I pitched for the contract to support Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games bid.
We rehearsed the full 30-minute pitch.
Twice in the two hours before we arrived to present it.
When my wife and I presented in front of over 16,000.
At the MGM Arena in Las Vegas.
We rehearsed the full presentation 12 times.
With this new challenge facing me this week.
I rehearsed the words over 200 times.
I’ll explain why in a moment.
Once on a stage, we need to concentrate.
On delivering exactly what we set out to deliver.
So we must blank out the occasion.
And concentrate fully on the delivery.
When our thoughts turn to the occasion.
We’re in danger of losing focus.
When we concentrate on the delivery.
We deliver what we had planned.
And the occasion will look after itself.
So what was this thing I’d been asked to do?
I rehearsed over 200 times.
A 60-second performance with the best in the business.
Using words written by someone else that I had to memorise.
I’d been asked to join a dance routine.
Opening the UK conference of a health and wellness business.
I’ve been involved for more than a decade.
I’d be dressed as Frank Sinatra.
Miming the words of “That’s Life”.
As I walked across a long central stage.
Strewn with West End dancers.
They’d wanted me to learn steps.
But every time I attempted them, I forgot the words.
So I took out that obstacle to concentrate on a convincing performance.
To give the illusion of singing.
In the two weeks leading up to the performance.
As the hours passed by in the morning.
And in the minutes before going on.
I was going over the words.
Time and time and time again.
Because I struggle to learn lyrics.
Or scripts off by heart.
When the moment came, I set off on my stroll.
Belting out the song as if my life depended on it.
Most were surprised in my inclusion in the professional line-up.
And a dozen told me how surprised they were that I could sing that well.
I admitted they were listening to Frank Sinatra.
But accepted it as a compliment.
Because if you’re going to take the stage.
You have to own it.
The lesson for anybody preparing to speak is simple.
At their annual conference.
Pitching for business.
Or just presenting to colleagues.
Follow these rules.
But most of all.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
Bill McFarlan is co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.
You can read his full profile here.
Some media trainers knock you down…and leave you down. Our media coaches show you how to deal with each knock…and still win through. So you have the presentation skills to perform – with confidence.