Long ago in auditoriums far away, thousands of my closest friends and I competed in the Toastmasters International annual public speaking contests. Best training ever.
These were five round single elimination contests, speeches five to seven minutes long, played out over a few months every spring. Only seven of the many thousand contestants appeared in the final round. While some speakers were very cool about the contests, most of us were not. Our bellies churned, our shirts moistened, our skins felt cold and clammy, our throats … got… very…. tight… and our hands shook.
I saw good speakers almost literally buckle on stage, losing their way, forgetting their speeches, crumbling in wretched silence.
Yet, sometimes, there were magical moments in which we delivered our speeches powerfully, without thinking about them, to anywhere from a dozen club-mates to several hundred people in cavernous ballrooms. We reached what we now call, “the zone.” We were unconscious.
How did that happen?
Belief in our material. And practice.
No kidding, we rehearsed our talks while driving in our cars, waiting for planes in airports, on trains, in conference rooms waiting for meetings, in our offices, in Toastmasters Club meetings, waiting for meals in restaurants, and in our beds at night before dropping off to sleep. “Winging it” was not an option after the first couple of rounds. More than 100 rehearsals before each contest, striving for seven minutes of grab-‘em-by-their-souls-and-turn-‘em-every-which-way-but-loose perfection.
High stakes sales calls provide similar challenges.
Because when we’re in high stakes sales calls, we get nervous and our minds immediately jump to their most rehearsed responses, even if they sound like, “Um…. ah…. Glad you asked…. Um…Er”.
We’re particularly in danger when we’re working with new material – a new product, new pricing, a price increase – or any message we’re concerned our prospects and customers might not like or might reject, thus endangering our daily meals and shelter.
Since our livelihoods are at stake, we need to do better than that. We need to react “in the zone,” making the right responses without thinking about them for more than a second.
So, maybe 100 rehearsals of your new product presentation or responses to challenging questions would be excessive. I’ll take the risk of suggesting that 1 rehearsal, 3 rehearsals, or even 10 rehearsals won’t be enough.
Remember rule 1: It takes a lot of rehearsals to appear unrehearsed and natural. Remember the words of actor George Burns: “The secret of acting is sincerity. When you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”