Imagine being personally invited by Governor Mitt Romney to speak at a national conference. Envision being introduced as the special mystery guest of the evening. See yourself speaking to an audience of 10,000 people in the room while millions of others watched on television. It would be an amazing offer for most speakers, a once in a lifetime opportunity.
If you accepted the invitation you would probably prepare, worry, prepare some more, and then practice a lot. Right? Not if you are Clint Eastwood. For his speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL, Mr. Eastwood did not prepare, practice, or worry. Clint Eastwood is not “most speakers.” He’s a living legend.
Go ahead. Make his day. Ask him for a copy of his speech in advance. He’ll tell you that he doesn’t have one because he doesn’t know what he’s going to say. Most speakers could never get away with that. But then most speakers are not Clint Eastwood.
So ask yourself, do you feel that lucky in front of your audiences? Would you wing it and let the chips fall as they may? I hope not. We mortal speakers must deliver presentations that are thoughtfully prepared in advance and fully vetted. Here are four lessons learned from Mr. Eastwood’s turn at the dais that all of us who aren’t Clint Eastwood should apply .
1) Know what you are going to say long before you say it. Mr. Eastwood had three points that he wanted to convey: Not everybody in Hollywood is on the left, Obama has broken a lot of promises, and people should feel free to get rid of any politician who’s not doing a good job. Mr. Eastwood had ideas in mind, but he didn’t think about how he was going to say them until after he took a nap on the day of the speech. Because of a lack of preparation, when the speech ended everyone forgot his message points and remembered “The Chair.”
Preparing a speech takes time. Begin your preparation as soon as possible. Long before the big day arrives you should do the following presentation skill basics. Think about your audience. Define your message. Choose an appropriate story structure for your message and supporting points. Make sure that all of your information supports your key message points. This preparation and editing phase will help ensure that your key points, not furniture, gets the starring role. (Learn how to prepare.)
2) Be aware of your time. Mr. Eastwood was originally told to speak for six or seven minutes. His time was then cut to five minutes. Mr. Eastwood spoke for twelve minutes. According to Mr. Eastwood, “When you’re out there, it’s kind of hard to tell how much time is going by.”
Time warps when you are in front of an audience. Ask for signals to stay on time. Use a highly visible time marker. Hit your key message point early. The five-minute speech that you practiced in your office will be much longer when spoken “live” to a sizable audience. You must make allowances for factors that will eat away at your time – spontaneous questions from the audience, interruptions of a ringing cell phone, or a previous speaker running long.
3) Practice. Practice. Practice. Mr. Eastwood admits that when it comes to giving speeches, “I really don’t know how to.” As for the Tampa speech, Mr. Eastwood stated “I didn’t make up my mind exactly what I was going to say until I said it.” He hates teleprompters and chose to speak extemporaneously. Clint Eastwood, a Hollywood legend, could wing it.
Until you become a cinema icon, practice your full speech at least fifteen times. Know your presentation like you breathe, without thought or hesitation. Don’t memorize your presentation word for word, but work to know the key words of your main key points and their supporting ideas. This will give you flexibility when you speak while ensuring that you cover your key message points.
All good speakers became great by working on basic presentation skills and then applying massive amounts of practice. Practice presentations aloud with all of your props — slides, white-boards, remote clickers. You’ll discover little things that should be removed, changed, or adjusted when you give your presentation a full-dress rehearsal. Think of these adjustments as massaging your talk into proper alignment. (Learn how to practice.)
4) Improvise with limits. It was only in the last few minutes before walking on stage that Mr. Eastwood decided to use the chair. He built his prime-time presentation on a last-minute improvisation. He says that he was in the Green Room “when I saw the stool sitting there, it gave me the idea.”
Be creative, but take measured steps to make each presentation fresh. Presenters should take advantage of situations that can make their speeches better and more “in the moment.” Improvising is a learned skill that should only be applied after lots of audience experience. Even then, give serious thought and caution before improvising large parts of your presentation. If you’ve never attempted a new idea and have not had time to work out the details, leave it out. A good speaker knows his limits.
How you present is always your choice. You can deliver your next speech like Clint Eastwood or you can be the new sheriff in town and give a presentation that’s prepared and practiced. Follow the above four points and no one will wonder why you brought in the extra furniture.
Clint Eastwood’s interview with The Carmel Pine Cone (Sept. 7 – 13, 2012). In the interview Mr. Eastwood reveals his thoughts on his RNC speech and “The Chair.”
Clint Eastwood is the former mayor of Carmel-by-the-sea, CA. Mr. Eastwood’s next film, Trouble with the Curve,” is set for release on Sept. 21, 2012. Get there early and get a good chair.