Winging it at work: Don’t!

by | Sep 28, 2011 | Blog | 1 comment

“Show up.” “Be present.” “Be authentic.”

These affirmations are common advice we hear from others or tell ourselves. These statements have their place except if you interpret them to mean you can wing it before meetings and one-on-one sessions.

(Note: If you’re like most people I coach, you assume you need to prepare for formal presentations. However, you don’t think you need to do much or any homework or advance work for other types of meetings.)

Unless you’re a trained actor or have an accomplished wingman working for you, you need some preparation time to help you be and do your best.

Yes, in our crazy, busy work schedules in which we often double or triple book meetings, prep time may feel like a luxury.

Before you put prep time in the same bucket as luxury goods such as sports cars, second homes, and personal chefs, think again.

Without prep time, you can do more than flub your lines–scripted or improv. You can damage your credibility by not coming across as competent, composed or even respectful. For example, you can waste your time and other’s time by not optimizing the value from the meeting, which some people will interpret as lack of respect.

As Dr. David Rock, the founder of NeuroLeadership Institute, says, “Preparation is like warming up to exercise.” You must do it before your meeting, not the night before. He and his coaches advise setting aside 50% of the full meeting time for powerful preparation.

Granted, you may not be able to find 30 minutes before a 60-minute meeting to prep. But some prep time is always better than no prep time.

For regular meetings, not just formal presentations, take enough time for these basics:

  • Determine the venue that will be best for your in-person meeting or phone call.
  • If you’re meeting in person, schedule the room. Think about the seating arrangements.
  • If you’re talking by phone, consider scheduling the date and time of the call, rather than just randomly dialing. By getting the call on your mutual calendars, you show that you believe the call content is important and you respect the other person’s time.
  • Review your notes and anything else that has transpired since your last meeting or conversation. Also, give yourself time to follow up or track down items that you should deal with in advance.
  • Think about your intent, including the agenda you want to follow. Be clear with yourself about what needs to happen and how you want to come across, writing down bullet points. (Yes, here’s where “How you want to show up” comes into play but it’s not literally bounding into the meeting room.)

The more high-stakes the meeting or conversation, especially around a sticky change issue, the more involved prep you need to perform. For example, for the next level, write a script. Then test it with others, even role play. You’ll get more comfortable and confident with your content and be able to talk about it more persuasively.

Especially when you role play with a trusted wingman you draft for the task, you’ll also detect where you may have some holes in your material, or not be fully thinking the “WIIFM” for others.

Are you ready to prep now? And how will you do it?

Good luck! Oops…break a leg!

1 Comment

  1. David Guthridge

    Excellent article! Thank you!

    Preparation cannot be over emphasized. What does one risk by not preparing? Credibility and Trust. Credibility to lead others; credibility to persuade; credibility to make an important sale.

    In most business situations, we are selling ourselves. People will choose to conduct business with others, when choice is possibile, because of the trust factor.

    Any factor that detracts from the comfort and interest of the listener can affect the presentor’s credibility. Those who plan ahead pay attention to the temperature of the room, the seating arrangements, and also realize that as more people attend, the temperature will rise.
    Rooms that appear to be “live” with great accoustics can need amplification once filled with people.
    Do you have enough chairs? Are the chairs comfortable? Is the sun in your eyes? Did you schedule your meeting right after lunch?

    Any factor that subtracts from the audiences’ comfort diminishes your success. If the audience is sweating, then guess what is on their mind. If YOU are sweating, they are thinking about that, rather than what you are saying.

    Now, regarding the content of your presentation: If you wing it, then you had better know your subject matter on a very high level. You need to know your topic like a musician of “The Wrecking Crew” knew music. The Wrecking Crew was a group of studio musicians who recorded most bands’ hits in LA during the 1960’s because studio time was far too expensive for the popular band actually cutting the record to show up and “Wing It.”…… not be prepared and have to rehearse in the studio, get it together and make then try to make a solid presentation.

    Only someone of a Leon Russell or Glen Campbell level of performance and competency can ask, “What key are we playing this in?” and make a lasting, positive impression.

    The rest of us must plan, practice and prepare.

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