As we approach rehearsal day for a TED-style event, without fail the client asks, “Are you worried about any of the speakers?”  We’ve coached hundreds of people to give talks like TED, and only one type of speaker worries me. It might surprise you to hear that it has nothing to do with complicated content, or with how nervous an individual might be. A speaker has me shaking in my boots when, after months of prep, I hear four simple words: “I made some changes.”

Last week, my son, a third grader, stood in my bedroom rehearsing his oral presentation to accompany a book report on Edgar Allan Poe. He had been working diligently on this assignment for two months. He had a great opening hook, a strong close, three well organized sections in between, and, of critical importance, he was under the four minute mark. He was prepared! (I mean his mom is a speaker coach.)

And then he spoke those four dreaded words. My own son! Oh, the shame.

We can trace many bad speaking habits back to grade school. Learning to label your content complete and feel comfortable that enough is enough, is a skill that even adults struggle to master.

(Sketch- Carl Richards, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/01/your-money/the-first-and-last-step-to-financial-satisfaction-defining-enough.html)

When we dig in with our clients and discover the reasons behind a last minute change, we find almost all fit into one of two myths. Here they are- paired with their countering facts.

1. MYTH: If I don’t include everything I know, people will think I don’t know it.

FACT:  Though you may think you are demonstrating expertise, “including everything” will make you less coherent and less effective, undercutting your executive presence and diminishing your chances for success. Save your additional information for the Q&A or stick it in an appendix. It will be there if you need it.

2. MYTH: I can wait until the last minute to work on a talk, I give presentations all the time.

FACT: While many executives speak constantly, the methodology and framework to give a powerful and engaging TED-style talk flexes an entirely different set of speaker muscles.  Don’t be fooled by the note-free, conversational style of TED Talks. These talks are incredibly well-constructed and well-rehearsed.

No matter the reason, the last minute change results in the same outcome. No time to practice and a mad dash to the finish line. Some pull it off—most don’t.

TED raised the bar for public speaking.  Executive presentation skills don’t stop at having a solid stance and eliminating “ums” and “uhs”. Strong speakers, the leaders that win ideas and inspire us to follow them, have learned to invest time to create a well constructed talk. And they know when enough is enough.

In the end, my son delivered the 4-minute version of his talk that did not include his last minute changes. Beyond learning about Edgar Allan Poe, he is beginning to understand that less can be more—a lesson that will serve him well one day when the communication stakes are higher. Oh, and he got the A. Plus.

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