Recently I was the opening speaker at a conference. I was to be followed by another speaker who would close out the conference.
Happily, I was prepared. I had crafted a powerful message, had rehearsed it carefully, and when it came time to deliver it, I did so in a compelling manner. It was a large audience and yet every single person in that audience, filling out an evaluation form later on, gave me the highest score possible, with nary an exception. It was a sweep; a perfect score from 100% of the attendees. I was grateful. And it was an inspiring session.
The speaker who followed me was not as prepared. She seemed sleep deprived. She got lost several times. She turned to her notes, seemingly dependent on them. Some of her notes appeared to be out of order. Some of her notes seemed foreign to her as if she was seeing them for the first time. She had no energy. She was listless. One could feel the energy in the room escaping as air escapes from a tire after having run over a spike. Her content wasn’t necessarily bland, but her delivery left much to be desired. It was not her finest hour. And I later found out her evaluation scores were disappointing.
In reflecting on this incident, my mind is drawn to a phrase often heard in Protestant Christian circles: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” In other words, when I reflect on her lackluster performance, I realize that, if circumstances were different, that could have been me.
But it wasn’t me.
It wasn’t me because I have learned, over years of experience, to go through certain rituals before I give a speech or similar presentation. The ideas I am about to share could, if implemented, impact you on your presentations, speeches, workshops, etc., in profound ways. Consider each of these and use them to your advantage to hit a home run every time you speak before a group. All of them are intended to put your mindset in a resourceful, powerful state.
First, consider the power of music. There are certain pieces of music that hold great meaning for each of us. Music can alter our mood in a profound way, causing us to feel warmth, sadness, determination, patriotism, a sense of the holy, and strength. There are songs that empower me deeply – the Hallelujah Chorus form Handel’s Messiah; Gonna Fly Now, the theme song from the first Rocky movie starring Sylvester Stallone; the live version of Indian Summer by The Rippingtons from their Live in LA album; Ole Judy, from a Dutch band called Focus; Divided We Stand by a rock band called The Dregs; and many others. Sometimes I make sure I am in a position, before I walk up to the microphone, to be out of eyesight of my audience, plug in my ear buds, and listen to one of these songs prior to beginning my presentation. Doing so puts me in a powerful state of mind, and I perform more effectively. You may consider doing likewise.
Second, perhaps you’ve heard a speech in the past that inspired you. Can you think of any? Perhaps the time FDR said we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Perhaps it was JFK urging us to ask not what our country can do for us, but to ask what we can do for our country. Perhaps it is Winston Churchill, rallying his British countrymen during a particularly dark time in his nation’s history, when in 1940 he uttered these stirring words:
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be.
Or, if not that particular gem from Churchill, perhaps this one:
Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. And even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old.
Saturating our mind with powerful and inspiring quotations from great leaders of the past can put us in a frame of being that enables us to draw upon our best selves and operate from strength and power.
Third, have you ever received a letter from someone that was particularly inspiring? You probably kept that letter because it was too valuable to discard. The letter may have reminded you of some things you have forgotten, things that pertain to your own uniqueness, your own gifts, your own capabilities. I suggest you have that letter on hand when you are about to deliver an important speech or make some other type of presentation. If you review that letter just before you start, your mind will be in a very resourceful state; you will have confidence because someone convinced you they believe in you. You will feel empowered. It will do its part in helping you to draw upon the best that is within you.
Fourth, perhaps there is a photo of some sort that has deeply impacted you. Maybe it is a photo that depicts a scene in nature. Perhaps it is that iconic photo of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston. Maybe it is a photo of you, showing you at your best. Whatever the case, there is truth to the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. If you can remember to look at an inspiring photo shortly before you deliver any presentation, it will likely have a powerful effect on your performance.
Fifth, let us imagine that you need to be in a humorous mood for your presentation. If you can identify a short video clip that always makes you laugh and puts you in a jovial mood, make sure you expose yourself to that clip. It may well be on YouTube. Whether it’s a clip from an old Seinfeld rerun, or some slapstick from a Peter Sellars movie, or a funny commercial from All State Insurance featuring the character known as Mayhem, by immersing yourself, however briefly, in something that makes you laugh, you can carry that levity into your opening and set the stage for delivering an animated and entertaining message.
Sixth, perhaps there is someone in your life, a person who always knows what to say to you and how to say it. Arrange to have a brief phone conversation with that person about 10 minutes before you are to begin your speech, presentation, seminar, meeting, or whatever. Let them fill you with wisdom and perspective. It will just take a few minutes but those few minutes are all that is required to buoy your spirits and put yourself in the right frame of mind to deliver the results you need.
Had the speaker who followed me at that recent conference done any of the six ideas I have listed above, I am certain she would have delivered a breathtaking message that built on the foundation I laid and made a profound impact on the audience.
These are things she did not do, to her detriment. And these are things you can do, to your success and to the satisfaction of those who listen to what you have to share.
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