Many organizations have some kind of process for preparing a presentation, even if it’s just “this person writes the PowerPoints, and that person makes them look good.” But when I started out as a communications coach and consultant, I was surprised at how few clients have any kind of disciplined method for executing the most fundamental task: figuring out what they want and need to say. Fewer still have a grasp of the rhetorical and structural tools that make their key messages forceful to the ear and memorable in the mind.
Sometimes I run into clients who resist the preparation protocol for their public speaking engagements. They feel quite sure they know what they want to say, and they don’t see any point in taking the time to go over it or delve into it. In the end, these clients profit from the preparation process every bit as much as – and sometimes more than – those who start out with only vague ideas of what they want to say.
In my experience, effective leaders invest substantial time and energy in message discovery. Often, this is because they look beyond the event they’re preparing for. They may be plotting a new course for their organization. They may be kicking off an extended communications campaign. Or they may be formulating an entire strategy for their enterprise.
Like great plays, compelling messages “have legs,” as we say in the theater. They can carry you far beyond the speech, presentation, or high-stakes meeting you’re preparing. Propagated through an organization, elaborated for various audiences, media, and events, they can become a campaign, a strategy, a recipe for success. But, just like good plays, great messages take time and effort to discover and develop.
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