Why your story sucks
I'm not a big fan of practice. I've had a love-hate relationship with rehearsals before an event because I find them anxiety-inducing. That's usually when I start to think "I've done this for a few years now, why don't I just leave it to sheer skill and instinct?"If you'd prefer listening to me talk about the contents of this article rather than read through it, I've made a video for you. Click HERE.
Six months ago, a university in Bangalore reached out to me to speak at their TEDx event. It was going to be my first ever TEDx talk and I wanted it to be perfect. I was told I'd have 15 minutes of stage time, timed to the dot, which meant there was no room for mucking about. I normally find comfort in speaking through my thoughts and finding my way as I go along on stage. There wouldn't be any of those luxuries this time around.
At this point, it is important to note that I've always been a huge Kevin Hart fan and he's had quite an influence on me as a speaker. Having watched and rewatched all of his Netflix specials and television appearances, I thought it was remarkable that he had never had an unfunny moment. Not any that I knew of at least. Only, I learned much later that that wasn't always the case.
Not every Kevin Hart moment is as comical as we see on the internet. I listened to a podcast recently where he spoke about his process of preparing for a tour. As it turns out, what we see on screen is the result of a lot of bad trial shows, where he bombs. In his own words, it's a year-long process of showing up at small open mics to try out new material to see if it works in front of a live audience. This back story is predictable, yet mind-blowing. I mean, it's Kevin Hart! Does he need rehearsals? What would that look like?
Most elite performers do this. Everyone. Well, everyone except modern-day working professionals like me. Modern-day knowledge workers who go to the office - who deliver presentations at work, ignoring the possibility that it will ever amount to much. What if we used a Kevin Hart-like approach to preparing for a big presentation?
Most of us have a chaotic process when preparing for a talk. It tends not to be mindful of the leaps and jumps we take in our thinking, which when exposed in front of a live audience, blows up in our faces. These experiences end up being overwhelming at best or straight-up embarrassing in certain situations.
Ever since I gave my TEDx talk, people have reached out to tell me how easy-going, natural, and unrehearsed I looked, whereas the exact opposite was my truth. I had rehearsed aggressively to nail my talk down. It's worth reminding ourselves that a lot of work goes into making a complex task look effortless. Developing a mindful process of practice does exactly that - it builds a sense of repeatability into future speaking opportunities. In team meetings, at town halls, or even at that high-stakes presentation in front of your boss's boss, where your peers and colleagues may even go so far as calling you a "natural".
Practicing your talk is like taking your story for a test drive. This perspective has made me more patient with my preparation and has even made the stress of practice more bearable.
I believe that stage time is precious time. What could be better than having a dozen or more eyeballs fixated on you, and an audience hanging on to every word you're saying? Fall in love with the process. Take a test drive.