I am a regular contributor to the American Society of Appraiser's Business Valuation E-Letter. My latest column (Issue 15-39, September 28, 2011) originally appeared as a blog post here. For the article, I added to the original post by fleshing out the featured story and then admitting to my own guilt. Read the whole thing to find out what I'm talking about.
The CEO / The Professional Speaker
This CEO was an immigrant who had built his company from nothing to an industry dominator through sheer hard work and business savvy. Although he had shared his rags-to-riches story with his employees and a few industry groups, he now wanted to share it with much bigger audiences.
So, this CEO called a speaker bureau and asked them to secure large speaking opportunities for him. The bureau counseled him to start small but he would have none of that thinking. He did have a compelling story and must have been a very convincing man in one-to-one encounters because he persuaded this speaker bureau to book him into a large event (6,000 people) for a big fee his first time out of the gate! The bureau contacted Mr. Morgan to help the CEO write the speech and to coach him in his delivery.
The CEO/speaker who had this amazing story of success and a new, compelling, and professionally written speech didn't think he needed to rehearse. Mr. Morgan stated, “Once everyone was happy with the speech, we proposed that the speaker rehearse. The CEO resisted, saying, ‘I'm very comfortable under pressure, because of my extensive martial arts training. I'll be fine.’”
So, what happened when he got his big chance?
The speaker began at the podium, but soon left it to roam the stage.
A couple of minutes in, he jumped up on the couch [on stage because the stage was so big] and executed what everyone figured out later must have been a half-remembered Kung Fu move. It was dramatic; the audience was riveted. Then he jumped down, uttered a few lines from the speech, and jumped up on the couch again, performing another semi-martial-arts maneuver, and a few more lines from the speech.
He kept up this astounding mixture of speaking and martial arts ballet until he had managed to get through — incoherently — about half the speech. Then he (mercifully) stopped and asked for questions.
There were none. 6,000 people in the audience were stunned into silence.
What was the legacy left by this mangled presentation?
The CEO has never spoken in front of a large audience again. ... The organizer of the event has a “bootleg” tape of the speech which is played at late night “after event” parties to riotous laughter. They coined the phrase 'jumping the couch' from this incident to describe a speaker who melts down during a speech.
"Jumping the couch." I love it. I thought only Tom Cruise did stuff like that.
Don't let this happen to you. Don't ever believe that you can do your best without rehearsing, and then rehearsing again, and then again, and ... well, you get the picture.
I Did It Too, Well Kind of ...
I can say "rehearse" this with conviction because I speak from experience. At one point in my past that I will not divulge, I was scheduled to give a marketing presentation to a group of business appraisers. I had always gotten stellar reviews every time I had ever given a speech – possibly because I always tried to be over-prepared. The organizer seemed really happy to add me to the program. By the time the speech rolled around though, I was busy with work and personal commitments. Really busy. I thought, “Hey, I’ve always done well and the majority of this presentation is identical to several I’ve given in the past. I don’t have to spend much time preparing. I’ll be fine.” Yep, just like the doomed CEO, I said it too – “I’ll be fine.” While I didn’t jump the couch, I did stink up the place – at least by my standards. I let the audience down and I let myself and my firm down. I missed a terrific opportunity for future business development.
Why Is This Important to Your Career?
Why is it so important to deliver a really good presentation? According to a 2009 study, 62 percent of professional service buyers are likely or very likely to choose professional services providers based on speeches they give. (Professional Services Marketing: Mike Schultz and John E. Doerr, John Wiley & Sons, 2009) The only items that scored higher were direct referrals and personal relationships with the service provider.
All savvy business appraisers know that speaking is an effective strategy for obtaining new clients, building your brand, and it can help you become better at what you do. Nancy Fannon said it best during a 2006 BV Resources teleseminar: “Whether you’re going to be up in front of a judge or jury, or you’re going to be up in front of a board of directors or your clients, you’re going to have to express complicated thoughts in a clear and coherent manner.”
The next time you get an opportunity speak, don’t jump the couch. Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse again.
Resource: The BEST book I've ever read on public speaking is Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun. It's not the typical rah-rah, superficial stuff you get from many professional speakers. It's real, it's funny, and it contains great lessons. If you're serious about using public speaking as part of your marketing strategy, you should read it. It will make you better.