To ad-lib is to speak without planning, to be spontaneous. Seemingly, this is a tough thing to do in front of a crowd, perhaps even undesirable. But I've noticed that many executives have a curious understanding as to what an ad-lib speech or presentation is.
Often times, I will have an executive come into my TV training studio with a PowerPoint Presentation that he did not prepare, has not looked at, and, most certainly, has not rehearsed. Next the executive will stand up and give the presentation while being videotaped. The results are highly predictable. The speech is long, with bullet-pointed facts, and short on interest, liveliness or memorability. In sum, the speech is an unmitigated disaster.
Next, I politely suggest that we throw the entire speech out the window and start from scratch. Then, we sit down and spend an hour tying to figure out what are the handful of key points that the audience really needs to take away from the presentation.
Next, we come up with examples and stories featuring real conversations with actual customers, clients and colleagues to flesh out each point. Then the executive puts together a short outline on paper and I give him or her 10 minutes to become more familiar with the outline. Finally, after a couple of hours, the executive is ready to stand up and give another speech, which we videotape and review.
The reaction from the executive is quite often: "I can't believe how much better I am ad-libbing my speech than I am giving the prepared speech."
My reaction is also consistent. I knock my head on the table and I say "what do you mean ad-lib? I just saw you spend two hours preparing the ten minute speech you just gave. But I didn't see you spend anytime preparing the first speech!"
To me, the speech I just saw was the exact opposite of an ad-lib speech.
For some reason, people don't associate spending hours creating a message and coming up with interesting anecdotes for message points to be "preparing" for a speech. And, of course, that is the only thing relevant there is to preparing a speech.
It is almost as if executives are fooling themselves. When they watch the video of themselves speaking without reading or staring at notes or PowerPoint slides, they appear to be just speaking in the moment. They forget that they just spent several hours in preparation for their speech.
But this just shows the beauty and power of appearing to speak in an ad-lib style. Not only does it fool the audience, but it can even fool the speaker who then later watches himself or herself on video. In that case, the deception is effective, as long as the speaker knows he/she must consistently spend time "preparing" a speech in a manner that will come across as "ad-lib."
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