Having to give a presentation frightens the living daylights out of most people and causes them to perform well below par. But running a marathon scares people too, yet those who take up that challenge usually perform well. Why should that be?
The answer, quite simply, is preparation. Everyone understands that to get through a marathon, muscles that are going to take an unusual pounding have to be trained. They are also aware that mental stamina has to be built-up well before joining the starting line.
Consequently, on wet days or dry days, hot days or cold, whether feeling down in the dumps or on top form, those planning to complete the course will be out there checking every inch of roadway, sussing out its pitfalls and its helpful contours so as to ensure that they will be as prepared as possible on the day of performance.
So why then, when it comes to ideas that we want to run with and bring home to an audience, do we think we can simply conjure them out of thin air without any preparation?
If training and rehearsal activate muscles, remove fear and free up the brain for running a marathon, then surely to produce sufficient vocal sound for presenting must also be by muscle training and rehearsal.
To hold up the heavy head, unlock the throat, lengthen and strengthen the torso and the back of the neck, loosen the tongue and control the flow of voiced-breath within the spaces behind faces that give our voices resonance requires considerable muscle control for which it is essential to train.
Senior executives usually have support staff to work out a game plan for them, set up videos, write scripts and organise and direct rehearsals. They may even employ a specialist coach to improve their delivery. But further down the pecking order, no one even mentions the need for such a process. So It’s up to us ordinary guys to enlist the help of colleagues to listen to us and comment on our material, timing and audibility.
We must also be prepared for - indeed positively welcome - comments that require us to change and rehearse posture and manner, volume and distinctness over and over before we next present ideas to colleagues or make a serious sales pitch.
Critical comment most often focuses on inaudibility. That’s because very few of us give sufficient punch to consonants - the percussive elements of our words.
Try saying “Good luck!” without sounding the g, d, l and k and you’ll realise that though vowels carry the tune of words, it is consonants that carry their meaning.
Once you have trained your body for the effort of enlivening and informing an audience, make sure that doing that job is the only thing in your mind as you stand up to speak. You should then find that the buzz of adrenaline you get from a group of people who have really engaged with your words can be so intensely invigorating that to have to run a marathon straight afterwards would be a doddle!