Rhinoceroses and rehearsal: A cautionary tale

Do you know what they call a group of rhinoceroses?

And no, I don’t know who “they” are, really. Those modern-day Adams who get to create nouns out of nothing but a fact and a bit of whimsy. Fact: Crows gather in groups. Whimsy: Hey—crows look sort of like ravens. And Poe, who wrote that poem about the raven, also wrote about murders. So let’s call it “a murder of crows”!

I mean, I don’t really know. That’s my own combination of fact and whimsy. But I digress. Rhinos.

Rhinoceros (public domain image)

Rhinoceroses can run at speeds of up to 35 m.p.h.—by my calculations, that’s over 3,000 feet per minute. But their tiny eyes can’t see more than 100 feet in front of them. A crucial disparity there.

This can—and I imagine quite often does—cause difficulties when it’s exercise time for the herd. So marrying fact and whimsy, “they” call a group of rhinos a “crash.”

What does this have to do with business?

Business executives—especially the kind who get asked to give speeches—tend to be very busy people. (You know this because “busy” is built right into the word “business.”) As a matter of fact, if “they” gave me the power to create a noun for a group of businesspeople, I would call them “a hurry of professionals.” But I digress (again).

Naturally, hurrying professionals look for ways to streamline their busy days. They outsource tasks of all kinds, from booking airline tickets to writing speeches. But you can’t outsource giving a speech. And you can’t streamline the preparations for it, either.

When you rush onto a stage without proper rehearsal, you crash. Just like those racing rhinoceroses, your physical abilities outrun your senses. Just because you can read from a page someone hands you as you stride to the podium doesn’t mean you should.

Whether you’re speaking from bullet points (which I never recommend) or reading a prepared text—even one you wrote for yourself—you need time to let the ideas sink into your brain. That way, when the ideas come back out your mouth onstage they’ll sound like your ideas and not like something you (or someone else) thought up a week ago. Take the stage unprepared and you leave yourself open to failure in so many ways. When you know your material backwards and forwards, then technical glitches won’t faze you. Neither will the CEO wandering into your presentation.

That happened to one of my clients, an executive who asked me to coach her and then was astounded when I had the temerity to ask her to run through her speech twice in rehearsal. The looks she shot me would surely have cowed someone who actually worked for her (yet another perk of flying in as a consultant). But she later told me that if she hadn’t known the material so well, seeing the CEO walk in during her speech would have thrown her off her game.

I looked for video of crashing rhinos for you, but I couldn’t find any. I’m kind of glad about that: I’m not sure how someone could film a rhinoceros stampede without ending up in the middle of it. But I did find a British band called Crash of Rhinos. The sample track on their website starts off deceptively soft, but watch out for your ears when the drums kick in.

Don’t be in a crash of rhinos. Aim for “a success of speakers” instead.

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