With everyone having access to materials on the internet, we as speakers have more challenges in developing content that is new, original, and recent. A joke I had used for years which few audiences had heard before appeared on one of the “humor for the day” sources. I realized that I could not use it anymore because some audience members might have read it on the internet. That is why personal experience or spontaneous humor is so important to develop and master. Thus personal research and preparation are essential for our presentations.
One of the reasons Clint Eastwood at the age of 80 is still an excellent actor and director is because he adheres to this rule. For example, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, he is preparing to direct a movie about J. Edgar Hoover. In the interview, Eastwood said, “I don’t rely on others to do this research. I went back and read probably all the material….I went and visited with the FBI in Washington, D.C., and tried to find out as much as I could about people who had worked with Hoover.”
Another example from the movie industry is in “The Apostle,” a movie written, directed, and personally financed by Robert Duvall. “The Apostle” was the culmination of a 14-year effort on the part of its creator, who also stars as the dynamic, God-fearing Texas preacher Euliss “Sonny” Dewey. Duvall, not a religious man, spent several months before making the movie going to as many church services as he could find to learn as much about the type of preacher he would portray. Research and preparation make the difference between great and average. One quotation that is attributed to various motivational gurus is “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
Pay attention to sources that other people might not consider in learning about a topic. For example, if I meet someone who has been in a career for several decades, I often ask this question: “What is one lesson you have learned in all of your years as…?” Or “What advice do you have for someone just starting out in ….?” I remember once asking a longtime university president the first question and his response was, “Don’t stay too long in a CEO-type position because after 7-8 years you have had to make tough decisions that will inevitably create some enemies and you will be limited as to what you can accomplish after that.” That was an idea I had not heard or read anywhere else and I have pondered and shared the idea many times when a CEO is facing challenges in a position. Some of these ideas are included in my presentation, Be Present When You Are Present .
Listen to the experienced and be present when important matters are being discussed. That attentiveness may lead you to a new speaking opportunity or opportunity in whatever you are pursuing. As Brooks Robinson stated, “If you’re not practicing, somebody else is, somewhere, and he’ll be ready to take your job.”
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. Visit his site to read other valuable articles on effective speaking and listening.