Then comes your greatest challenge. Coach Dambrot calls it instinct; I call it your Inner Brilliance. You want to prepare and practice. Then when the spotlight of life is on you, you want YOU to come out.

30 million presentations are given every day. 90% are unbearable. Included in these numbers are countless CEO presentations. CEO’s speak to their Board, Bank, and other CEO’s. Sometimes they even speak to their employees in companywide meetings. How does an otherwise dynamic CEO become boring as a speaker?

Keith Dambrot, says it this way, "the worst thing you can do is make a gifted player over-think."  As Men’s Basketball Coach at The University of Akron and the first person to discover LeBron James on the elementary school playgrounds of Akron Oh, he should know. Great players play all on instinct versus thinking he claims. Sure, they have to learn the system and the plays. Then the challenge is to play by instinct when there is no time left on the clock.

You may think you have little in common with an NBA or NFL player. As a speaker, you have a similar challenge. You select a title, you write your speech, and you edit and perfect and polish it. If you’re on top of your game you practice. You practice out loud, you practice in the same place you will deliver the speech and at the same time of day.

Then comes your greatest challenge. Coach Dambrot calls it instinct; I call it your Inner Brilliance. You want to prepare and practice. Then when the spotlight of life is on you, you want YOU to come out.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is to over practice. Often you will hear presidential candidates after a debate. Almost always they will say that they wish they would have rehearsed less. What they end up doing is pounding every ounce of themselves out of the presentation or debate.

Every speech should pass a test. The test is that it is a speech that only the person who created it or the person it was created for could give.

Several years ago, a CEO came to me with a speech he had written. What did I think of it, he asked? It was a typical CEO speech. It was fine. The problem is that it was a speech that any CEO of any company anywhere could have given. It didn’t show his Inner Brilliance, it didn’t showcase his instincts.

"Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" was a remark made during the 1988 vice presidential debate. Then senator and vice presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen made this remark which has lived on much longer than the senator himself. He followed an instinct, let his Inner Brilliance show, and the reward was a line that now belongs in the lexicon of political jargon.

You can’t speak on instinct alone and be effective. Martin Luther King, referred to by most as one of the greatest speakers of the last century, holed up in a hotel room before speaking, spewing index cards of notes to compile a speech. Yet standing at the Lincoln Monument that August day fifty years ago, he put away those notes. He closed the book on the speech he had worked so hard to craft. In its place he launched into the I Have a Dream theme, a little speech that he had tried out at a little church a few weeks earlier. Standing in front of 100,000 people that sweltering August day, he went on instinct, and he let his Inner Brilliance out.

When all is said and done we have more in common with super athletes than we might think. Their challenge is when to play by instinct and when to follow the system.  Their challenge like all of our challenge is to do the hard work, to prepare. But then when the spotlight of life is on us, to play by instinct, to let our Inner Brilliance come out and play.


Martin's picture
I often over-practice when it comes to presentations, meetings, etc. I need to remember to speak naturally. Thanks Leslie!
Jennifer Corob's picture
Great words of wisdom, Leslie! People are going to be more interested in someone giving a speech who is speaking from the heart and not just delivering rehearsed lines that they think sound good. Some rehearsing of a speech is fine, but the speaker should make sure they are really connected with their speech and that it is a true expression of their own experiences, and what they believe.
Aimée Smith's picture
Giving honest and sincere speeches is all well and good, but one should never underestimate the possibility of "freezing up," becoming nervous and forgetting how the speech is supposed to go. I say a person should practice a speech as much as they can, but leave a little room for improvising so the whole thing doesn't sound scripted.
Leslie Ungar's picture
In coaching clients I often have them participate in my “walk across the room” exercise. My company, Electric Impulse is named after a horse. Sometimes I hold my whip in my hand for this exercise, although I have not had to use it yet. Really, I have clients -from CEO’s to Gen Y- stand up and actually walk while they are talking. First, I want them to answer in the time it takes to walk across a room, not a football field or the state of New Jersey (our smallest state). I want them to stride confidently across the room, not dawdle like a kid returning to class after recess. The second and more thought provoking reason for this exercise is for clients to learn what purposeful can sound like on a daily basis. Purposeful is a word I keep using again and again. I find that I use this word in coaching a CPA, a surgeon, or a salesman. The goal is to make all aspects of your communication meaningful not accidental, subliminal or casual. Five steps to be purposeful in verbal, vocal and visual: 1. Make Your Gestures Purposeful-President Clinton was known for his thumb pointing gesture. Although it was alittle odd, it was purposeful. A finger, a hand, an arm, taking a step or taking three steps all need to look purposeful. Colin Powell takes a powerful, well measured step; at I assume the exact same place in the same speech every time. That means that he does not look like Moses walking aimlessly around the desert: his step forward is purposeful. 2. Make Your Words Purposeful-Words have a specific meaning. First, select your words on purpose. Then you need to protect the meaning of the word by how you pronounce and interpret the words for your audience. “Sad” needs to sound “sad” and “happy” needs to sound different than “sad”. 3. Make Color Purposeful-The visual is huge to the audience and color can make up a huge part of visual. If you want to convey that you are the right person to lead an organization then make your color choice purposeful. A bold color says “lead”, a neutral color says “follow”. The rules of communication apply, even in the world of accounting. 4. Make Your Silence Purposeful-It is a challenge to make friends with silence. There is a difference between being quiet and being silent on purpose. Everyone knows the person at every meeting that has an opinion on every agenda item. Would purposeful silence enhance that person’s value? Do you start a presentation with ten seconds of silence or at least three seconds of silence? Do you protect the end of your comments with silence that lets your audience know that you are done? 5. Make Your Visual Purposeful-Whether you sit or stand, whom you choose to sit next to, how you use the podium, whether your PowerPoint masters you or you master your PowerPoint, are all parts of the visual you convey to your audience. Did you select the type of microphone you will use on purpose, where does the battery pack go; will your jewelry interfere with the lapel mike? Test yourself continuously and consistently. When you answer the phone are you purposeful, is the gesture you use purposeful, are your comments purposeful, do you select your words on purpose, the tie on purpose, the kind of microphone on purpose? We are a sound bite society. We are lucky if we have the opportunity to get a sound bite of information across to our audience of one or one hundred. In the short time you have to communicate your value, are you being purposeful?

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