I was listening to a speaker recently, while sitting in the back of a ballroom at a company conference. I was scheduled to speak later in the day, so I came early to “breathe the air” and hear themes being discussed at the conference.
As I was listening to the kickoff speaker, a senior member of the organization, I was stunned by his seeming lack of preparation. He seemed to randomly move around from topic to topic, adopted a super-conversational tone and delivery, and was overwhelming the audience with his verbal pauses… “Um, um, um.”
It was a “cringeworthy” experience.
Afterwards, I huddled up with the head of learning and development, who asked me for feedback on the executive’s performance. I stared at her, trying to gauge her desire for honesty, and paused long enough that she knew I had something to say. “Please be honest, it’s just us talking,” she said.
“Ok… He sounded completely unprepared, like he was making it up, and had spent about 10 seconds thinking of what he wanted to say.” That was my input.
She agreed, but then said that he prides himself on sounding casual and conversational. He resists, she told me, any coaching that he feels will tighten him up, for fear that he looks too scripted and formal.
My advice to her, and to you, is to remember that “casual” does not have to mean “unprepared.” “Prepared” does not mean “scripted.” You can absolutely be fully prepared and yet casual. In fact, in my experience, some of the most casual and conversational speakers are the MOST prepared. They know exactly what they want to say, and then know how to deliver it in a casual way.
Don’t confuse the issues. There is never a reason NOT to be prepared. You always need to know what your message is, what your key points are. From there, you can decide if you want that message delivered formally or informally.
Just make sure that in your effort to sound casual, you don’t in fact sound like you are making it up as you go.