We learned from the Beijing Olympics that China knows how to dazzle an audience. And they did it again. No detail was overlooked in preparation for the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China held on October 1. The parade participants practiced individually, rehearsed in groups and perfected every performance routine. As The New York Times reported, the preparation activities included the following:
· Soldiers rehearsed for thousands of hours to hold their rifles at exactly the same level during their parade march. Precision was mandatory.
· To correct poor posture, instructors actually stuck needles in the soldiers’ shirt collars to have them keep their heads up and backs erect.
· Parade participants were trained to stand motionless for a solid hour, to refrain from swaying after the second hour, and not to collapse after three hours!
· Participants were also trained to perfect an artful stare—they learned to keep their eyes fully open and were not allowed to blink for a full forty seconds at a time.
I must say that I found this level of preparation both fascinating and excessive. And I was relieved to learn that a full team of mental health professionals was on hand to help those who were struggling with physical and mental stress as a result of the grueling preparation process. As someone who prepares people for events and who has the reputation for being a perfectionist, I can honestly say that compared to this form of preparation, I’m Winnie the Pooh!
And yet, while preparing for a speech in the way that China prepares for large scale events would be overkill, there are still some important lessons here.
How important is your presentation?
When it comes to speech preparation, think of a continuum based on the importance of the presentation. On one end there is the informal event, which may require little preparation, especially if you’re good on your feet; and on the other end there is the kind of preparation conducted for a celebration of the magnitude of China’s 60th anniversary.
Here are a few questions to help you define both end points on your continuum and everything in between. Think about your audience and the range and types of presentations you typically give and then ask yourself:
1. How high are the stakes? What do I have to gain or lose?
2. What’s the worst that can happen if I don’t prepare?
3. What’s the best that can happen if I fully prepare?
4. What’s the ideal outcome of my presentation?
5. How much time do I need to prepare?
Plan more prep time than you think you need
Once you assess the amount of time you need to prepare, I suggest that you double it. That’s right! The amount of time you initially estimate is usually not enough to refine and polish any but an impromptu presentation. At the very least go ahead and schedule additional time, and if you don’t need it, nothing is lost. I find that people tend to run out of time for preparation and always wish they had more. We often hear the participants in our two-day Encore! program say, “I wish we had another day.”
Get help to stay on track
Practice schedules are easy to set up and difficult to maintain, so it’s always good to have someone who can support you and even push you to stay on track. If you find that you are having trouble, get help! Your choices here are many and include your spouse, boss, colleague, friend or a professional speech coach. Ask them not to make you stand motionless for three hours or stick needles in your shirt collar, but agree to a method that will keep you accountable.
Because China had just prepared for the Beijing Olympics, the planning committee knew exactly what to do to once again achieve perfection. Did they go overboard? Perhaps. But the stakes were high. After all, how much practice would you do if you knew the whole world was watching you?