Do I really need rehearsal? Really? Frequent Questions

Q: Do I really need rehearsal?

A: Do you really need to get your point across?

I get it. Many clients hate “wasting their time” in rehearsal—standing in an empty room for an hour, saying the things they will later say in a full room.

Do you need rehearsal?Here’s my tough-love response: If you don’t want to rehearse, don’t accept the gig. But if you have accepted the gig, if you’re going to stand up in front of a roomful of people and ask for their attention, you owe it to them—and to your reputation—to be prepared.

Think about it: How would you feel if one of your direct reports made an unrehearsed presentation to the Board of Directors? Would you think well of him? “Gee, what a great guy. And clearly so busy with his real work to bother with preparation. Impressive.”

I think not.

I expect you’d be embarrassed that one of your people showed up unprepared. You might even feel that he didn’t respect you or value the Board’s time. (And you’d be right.) Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be that guy when comp time rolls around.

You hate having to sit through an unprepared speaker’s performance. That—not rehearsal—is the true waste of your time.

So why would you even think about inflicting that pain on someone else?

Yes, you need rehearsal

Chris Voss, the former FBI hostage negotiator, might seem an unlikely person to offer advice to speakers. But in his book Never Split the Difference: negotiating as if your life depended on it, he introduces one of the best arguments for rehearsal I’ve ever read: the “7-38-55” rule.

“UCLA psychology professor Albert Mehrabian created the 7-38-55 rule. That is, only 7 percent of a message is based on the words while 38 percent comes from the tone of voice and 55 percent from the speaker’s body language and face.”

Translation: Audiences have many ways to spot a bullsh*tter. So don’t be one.

Oliver Sacks told a story in one of his books—maybe The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, though I don’t have access to check it right now—of some neurology patients watching a televised speech by then-president Ronald Reagan. The sound was turned off, so they could not hear what the president was talking about. But although it was a serious subject, they were laughing their heads off. They registered his insincerity just by looking at him.

A later Republican president remains barely comprehensible when you listen to him speak, but completely indecipherable—and more than a little nutty—when you read the transcripts. In his case, his facial expressions and demeanor work in his advantage. Audiences somehow see him as more substantive than readers do.

People think speeches of speeches as a bunch of words. And words are important. But (and it pains me to write this), words may not be the most important element of a speech. Tone of voice, the expressions on your face, your comfort onstage—these convey your confidence in your message.

So do you need rehearsal? Only if you want people to believe you and your message.

And if you don’t want people to believe you, then—again—why did you accept the gig to begin with?


The shopping list: Story Safari

I found this fabulous story in Lawrence Wechsler’s Vanity Fair piece about the great writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks encountering a shopping list left by his housekeeper:

“The other day,” Oliver tells me, “on the list was the word ‘fail.’ I figured this was some prodigiously self-deprecatory detergent and set about looking for it. But no stores had it. I decided its name must have been self-fulfilling.

“Only, my housekeeper subsequently corrected me: ‘No, no, you idiot—foil!’ ”

Another great story bagged on a Story Safari. Now, how might I use this?

How to mount this Story Safari trophy?

At the simplest level, it could be a story about how doctors’ famously unreadable handwriting. This doctor was undone by his housekeeper’s handwriting.

But, really, we can do much better than that.

We might use it in a story about someone too ready to see failure.

Or, playing off the fact that most of us fear failure entirely too much, we might write a story about someone with so little fear of failure that he thinks a consumer product company would name a product “Fail.” Can you imagine a company doing such a thing? I certainly can’t.

In any case, stories like this in Wechsler’s article humanize Sacks. The article made me like the man even more than I already did. And that’s one of the primary purposes of using stories like this, especially in a business context.


Learn to tell your story powerfully. Join me for my free webinar “The Courage to Communicate: Write Right to Lead”—Saturday October 29th at 12 noon Eastern, 9 a.m. Pacific.

Tell stories! (Oliver Sacks edition)

Do you ever get tired of me proselytizing on behalf of stories? Well, too bad. I am a story evangelist. And I’m not alone.

Catching up on a dusty old issue of Vanity Fair, I found a story by Lawrence Wechsler with notes of his conversations with the late neurologist Oliver Sacks.Oliver Sacks recognized the importance of stories

I’m not a science nerd by any means. But I have been a huge Oliver Sacks fan ever since I read his remarkable book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: and Other Clinical Tales. Many more people know him from his book Awakenings, later turned into a movie starring Robin Williams as a Sacks-like character.

Sacks took his material from real life, from the rich stories he was privy to as he treated patients with a range of puzzling neurological ailments. And the key word in that sentence? Stories.

Stories resonate—and get remembered

Other doctors might have treated the same people and seen them as mere cases. But Sacks recognized them as people—with stories to tell. Stories particular to each patient’s own condition, but with elements that could resonate with all of us.

Here’s what Wechsler writes about one of his conversations with Sacks:

“He respects facts, he tells me, and he has a scientist’s passion for precision. But facts, he insists, must be embedded in stories. Stories—people’s stories—are what really have him hooked…”

As you might guess, I added the emphasis there. Tell facts, by all means. But tell them in a context that will make them memorable.

And recognize that facts by themselves only go so far:

“He recently attended a conference on Tourette’s syndrome. Ninety-two specialists gave papers on EKG readings, electrical conductivity of the brain—all kinds of technical subjects. Sacks, the 93rd, got up and said, ‘It’s strange. I’ve been sitting here all weekend and heard not one sentence on what it might be like to be a Touretter.'”

I can practically see the eminent neurologists in the audience shrinking in their chairs: How could we lose sight of the patients?

Whether you’re conducting scientific research, or turning around companies, or selling vacuums, your work doesn’t exist in (you should pardon the expression) a vacuum. Everything we do touches our fellow human beings in some way, large or small. And that produces stories. And stories connect us to one another.

Tell stories. Every time.


Learn to tell your story more effectively. Join me for my free webinar “The Courage to Communicate: Write Right to Lead”—Saturday October 29th at 12 noon Eastern, 9 a.m. Pacific.