Practicing til you can’t get it wrong

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I speak convincingly and passionately. But I’ve recently learned a secret to giving better presentations thanks to nervousness of a client…

In a couple of weeks I’m going to be doing three important workshops for a client. They have 60 senior people who need to become better writers and I’m going to have three full days with them, 20 people at a time.

But here’s the interesting footnote. The client had previously worked with another supplier for the same aim — and the workshop had failed. Too academic. Too theoretical. Too impractical. As a result, my client had an understandable case of nerves. They wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to botch the presentation. So they requested an advance 90-minute meeting with me, to review my notes in detail.

I agreed, readily. I knew I could demonstrate my practicality, no problem. But here was the surprising turn of events for me. The advance-review not only reassured the client. It also helped me.

During this meeting, we identified certain company-specific issues about which I’d had no idea (even though I’d been thoroughly briefed beforehand.) We were able to tailor my presentation in ways that will make it far better for my client and far easier for me to deliver. I also have a heads-up about certain points I’m going to make that might be controversial. This will allow me to be better prepared for potential problems.

All of which only goes to prove a point I’ll be making in the workshop: “Amateurs practice until they can get it right; professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.” The aphorism was said to have been popularized by Harold Craxton, a professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London, referring to musicians. I think it applies equally well to presenters.

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