The best excuses
I noticed a trend among my coaching clients. They often find a reason to postpone the second session.
One thing I know to be true is that when considering an important presentation – those moments when we absolutely must shine – the biggest step is admitting help is needed and calling in professional assistance. So making that first phone call is a step to be honoured.
However something happens once the journey has begun, something which causes a falter at the second step. Up to now it’s just been an interesting phenomenon which I’ve found ways to manage. Last month I was working with a company on their annual conference and saw separate behaviours which gave me a little insight into how we process our fear.
I was coaching a series of presenters from both inside and outside the company. All had different needs and different styles of presenting.
One of them, let’s call him Ian, was super keen and also had a great grasp of the bigger picture. His brief to the slide designer never faltered, whenever we had a chance to run through he would stand and deliver his presentations, getting better every time.
The second – Nicky - was a fiddler. She altered the brief for his slides several times, only rehearsed when she was given no other choice, and spent more time on her data than on the words she was going to use.
Finally there was Tom. He had his laptop open at all times, including the final rehearsal, and spent most of his time doing something else. Tom was also the youngest of the group, but I don’t think age was the primary reason for his behaviour.
Needless to say, Ian was the best presenter on the day. He had a clear direction and took on board all the advice I was able to give him. Nicky came on the most, she too listened to my advice and did finally get there. Tom gave a passable presentation and bought me several drinks afterwards, but he could have been so much better.
The reason for Tom not taking all the advice offered, which he had fought to have available, is the same as those who cancel session two. Fear. When we don’t like something we avoid it. But this hard wired response is - of course - very damaging when preparing a presentation. Tom didn't rehearse, and put off preparing properly. So he went to the stage less than his best.
Among my wider group of clients there are creative ways these delaying actions are justified.
"I had to wait for the ideas to coalesce before I could write the presentation"
"I work better from rough notes"
"It's bad to be over rehearsed"
I recently watched Rod Stewart performing in Hyde Park. I know, I'm so up-to-the minute. It's not a bad performance - on BBC iPlayer http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p031y3z8 - in between two of the numbers Rod apologised to the audience saying "We've only been able to rehearse for one week." I don't know about you but even I know all the words to Maggie May. If Rod Stewart feels the need to be rehearsing for a week to give a one hour twenty performance when he already knows all the words then Tom really was no where near the problem of being "over rehearsed"
Another great excuse is that it's "bad to read from a prepared script". A prepared script is (in my opinion) a great thing. I often encourage preparation of a full text even if apparently presented off the cuff. The act of writing the text is, for me, a great way to focus my thoughts. That's true whether or not I use the text as written. A prepared text can be presented well or badly, think about the greatest actors delivering Shakespeare compared with a school play.
Yes, little Jonny was marvellous...
It's really time to grab the nettle. The way to begin, is, to begin.
If you can learn to spot the signs of procrastination in others you might start to spot them in yourself. Or even help me to do the same.
Richard Tierney is the author of The Introverted Presenter