This post was written by Dan Cooney, Director of Coaching and Senior Facilitator at The Latimer Group.
I’m a sailor and I compete locally, often teaming up with family and friends on Thursday nights. We are trying to win, for sure, but the laughs and camaraderie are central to the exercise. Recently, we competed in a more serious North American Championship. We held our own but more importantly, I re-learned some lessons that apply in a business communications context.
- The start/your open makes all the difference in the world. In the sailing world getting a bad start means you are going to suffer from the “exhaust” or “dirty air” of the group in front. The rich get richer and it’s really hard to recover from a bad start. In a speaking context, you have one chance to grab the attention of your audience at the open. If you can’t get them in the first twenty seconds, you have diminished the likelihood that your message will resonate with your audience or motivate them to move in the direction you intend. You are stuck in the “exhaust” of a disengaged audience.
- Remove all excuses for failure. We fixed several little things on the boat before we competed. The boat wasn’t perfect but we did take care of known and anticipated problems. Doing this improves performance and allows your cognitive energy to solve other higher-value problems. Howard Marks, the celebrated and wildly successful investor reminds us, “You can’t predict, but you can prepare.” The idea is that while you can’t know what’s going to happen, you can prepare for a range of likely scenarios. For speaking opportunities that means arriving early to set-up and test technology, knowing who will be in the room to the extent you can, anticipating objections to your message and practicing your talk out-loud.
- We rarely see our professional colleagues in their own offices outside of a meeting context – we can’t SEE how hard or smart they are working. We don’t always SEE what their “compete-level” is. Their work ethic manifests in the big presentation or at high-leverage meetings. On the race course, it’s all out in the open. You see all 22 other teams the whole time (in their “offices”) and you come to realize that most of them are working really hard and trying to eke out every ounce of speed and capability. You see them constantly making adjustments and improvements and the bubble above my head says, “Hey, it’s a competitive world out here, pass me up a Red Bull!”