How much time and effort should you spend preparing for a meeting?
It could be a sales call or vendor meeting. It could be an all-hands employee meeting. It could be a board presentation or just a team huddle. You are busy and there are only so many hours in the day. How much time and effort can you afford to spend preparing for a meeting?
Wait. You’re a professional. You know your job better than anyone. You’re already prepared.
Actually, you’re only half prepared. Knowledge and experience are essential, but they only make up half of being prepared.
Freakonomics Radio is one of the most downloaded podcasts. Because it has millions of listeners, it can get the world’s leading experts as guests. Stephen Dubner, the host, said, “We get the smartest people in the world, on their subjects, but when we put a microphone in front of them, they get really dumb.” Dumb by both definitions: they can’t talk or when they do it sounds unintelligent. (The Freakonomics team coaches guests to get them fully prepared before the finished product is ready to air.)
Knowing your job and your subject is only half of making the impact you need to make to achieve what you want to achieve. The other half is being able to communicate clearly. The value of your knowledge and experience is vastly reduced if you cannot communicate it. And crystal-clear communication takes preparation. We overbook and underprepare, quantity instead of quality, forgetting that the real measure of success is impact.
It’s normal to think that preparation time and presentation time should roughly equate – to think the time we spend preparing should be determined by the time we plan to spend talking in the meeting. But that’s a false equation. Think about how much time athletes spend preparing versus how much time they spend in the game. They do drills and workouts and stretch and watch film. And think about how much time entertainers spend preparing versus how much time they spend performing.
Pick your favorite guitar or piano part from a song, then search “learn to play” that part on YouTube. It is mind blowing how complex it is to play something that sounds simple. Something that takes 10 seconds to play, takes 10 hours to learn, and countless hours of practice to maintain quality. There is an adage in music: “If I don’t practice for a day, I can tell. If I don’t practice for a week, my friends can tell. If I don’t practice for a month, the whole world can tell.”
Preparation time does not equal presentation time. The actual equation is
Preparation = Impact
Every moment in time is not equal. The meeting – the presentation, the game, the performance – is a narrow passage between preparation and impact. The value you can add will not fit through the narrow passage unless it’s clear and concise. So, the less time you have to deliver your message, the more preparation it takes. And it’s not just the words and phrases; it’s also the enunciation, the intonation, the cadence, the body language, the gestures, and the facial expressions.
Each time you have the opportunity to communicate (with 1 person or hundreds); you have the obligation to make a positive impact.
In case you’re not sure this is worth it, remember that positively impacting other people is the only thing that gets you what you want and need.
Crystal-clear communication creates and propels positive impact. It is essential for excellence. It is essential for achieving what you want to achieve. But it’s NOT natural. Looking and sounding natural, when it counts, is almost never natural. If you’re an introvert, take heart. Introverts can communicate as well as extraverts. If you’re an extravert, don’t get cocky. Spilling all the words out just wastes time, if they’re not organized in a way that clearly communicates. Crystal-clear communication takes deliberate practice, for everyone.