Fake a seizure! Fake a seizure! My inner voice screamed at me. Imploring me to do something. To do anything. All I could muster was a feeble fake cough. All my hard work and preparation had been for nothing. I’d written a script. I’d rehearsed it countless times. But now, when it mattered, when it was showtime when the CEO and entire executive team of NCR were my audience – I was dying a humiliating death in Las Vegas, Nevada.
In hindsight, the outcome was to be expected. I was presenting something that I had little knowledge of and decided the best solution was to write a script.
My mistake was thinking I could memorise it.
As the 15 strong executive team left the neighbouring demonstration and made their way towards me, my heartbeat quickened, while everything else went into ‘Super Slow-mo.’
Then the music started.
The iconic opening title music from Reservoir Dogs, no less.
Mr. Pink, Mr. Brown and the gang were pussycats compared to Mr. CEO, Mr. President of Marketing and a collection of expensive suits.
My strategy was simple. Delivering my opening line perfectly would give me confidence. Then the magic would happen. By the laws of association and the power of the human brain, my entire carefully prepared script would magically come alive.
This would be my ‘I have a dream’ moment.
What I didn’t consider is this – what happens if I DIDN’T remember that first line?
I found that out the hard way.
The lesson I took from this is an important one, and it’s never left me.
When it comes to delivering a presentation, a demonstration or any form of public speaking, there are only two options.
- You can read from a script OR
- You deliver it off the cuff.
Writing a script, then attempting to memorise it, word for word, simply doesn’t work.
I now mix up my approach. Sometimes I read from a script, and sometimes I just go with the flow. Either way you need to do what makes you the most comfortable version of yourself.
I died in Las Vegas – So You Don’t Have To
So why am I sharing what might seem like obvious advice?
Yesterday I delivered a presentation coaching session for one of my clients. It’s not a service I offer, but he asked, and I answered.
He’s delivering a 20-minute presentation later in the year and initially, he wanted me to write the script for him. After I’d offered him some tips and advice, he asked if I’d coach him on how to deliver it.
I thought I’d share my process with you.
What came first the blog or the script?
I’d ghostwritten two blog articles related to the event for my client and recommended that we use those as the source material for the script.
A blog post is one of the most personal forms of writing, and I think they can serve as a solid foundation for a script.
But this isn’t a copy and paste job. Writing for the page and writing to be narrated isn’t the same. The blog post gave me the structure, but with the exception of a few key phrases, it was entirely rewritten.
Say it loud and proud
Once I’d completed the first draft of the script, I read it out to check the initial flow. If I tripped up on any phrases or identified elements that sounded robotic, I made a mental note to correct it in the next stage – but I pressed on to establish the initial timings.
Paragraph by Paragraph
Next I read each paragraph out loud, this time though I stopped to correct phrases that didn’t work. If I couldn’t decide on how to fix the issue, I made a note and moved on to the next paragraph.
The Recording Artist
2nd draft crafted, it was time to try a slightly different review process. This time, I’d become a recording artist. I used the ‘Recorder’ app on my iPhone and this time delivered the script as if I was delivering it for real.
A bonus piece of advice – if your kids are on holiday, and you work from home, be prepared for interruptions. “Daddy, I need toilet roll!” can clearly be heard on the first draft!
Reviewing the recording with pen in hand is a great way to identify more areas for improvement.
I recommended to the client that we meet at the venue to have a run through. To help break the ice, I decided to show, rather than tell. I jumped up onto the stage (OK I clambered!) and delivered the presentation.
We discussed some changes and then I offered some fairly rudimentary presentation advice, demonstrating each step as I did.
Next it was his turn.
He did really well.
With each run through, he gained more confidence. I scribbled notes to make further changes to improve the script.
By the final run through he was combining reading from the script with the occasional ad-lib. He took my advice and slowed down his speech and varied the tone – the difference from ‘Take 1’ and ‘Take 4’ was dramatic.
He told me afterwards that it had been a really valuable experience and that he was now far more confident about delivering a powerful presentation.
And of course, I saved my best advice for last.
If things go wrong – just fake a seizure.