Every business discipline has its own jargon, even communications (consider the ubiquitous terms “content” or “social”). It speeds up some conversations, but can easily obscure some important ideas as well. By applying a completely different vocabulary we can gain some insight.
At Preston, we like to talk about leadership communications in terms of theatre. We use words like script, show, cast and stage even for programs that won’t involve traditional performance. This sometimes makes people uncomfortable, which is exactly what it’s supposed to do. It allows us to take a message out of the cozy context of the client’s comfort zone, and examine how it will play to an audience.
I’m struck by how often I hear presenters say, “I don’t want to sound scripted” as if that were the kiss-of-death. Done well, scripting is a process of mental composition, not about sticking to precise phrasing. When you are composed in front of an audience – when you know the beginning, middle and end of your story and how you will move from place to place – you can pay attention to your listeners.
When we talk about building a show (instead of producing a meeting) there’s a dual meaning. Great presentations go far beyond scripts or bullet points; they show that what is being said is meaningful to the audience. They incorporate illustrations, maybe physical props, even costumes. (What would it say if you delivered your message in a hoodie instead of a sports jacket?) This is why we attend conferences, rather than simply download decks from SlideShare: the way people interact in public has an enormous impact on what they understand, absorb and retain.
Then there’s the show, versus the agenda. Great business events have an overall flow, unfolding like a story rather than delivering “content” in discontinuous chunks. Individual performances reflect on, and build upon each other for collective impact.
Over years of doing this, we have noted one important thing: only a very skilled performer can effectively deliver a message he doesn’t believe in. If an executive has not composed his thoughts it won’t matter whether he speaks from a prepared script, or off-the-cuff. This is often revealed in rehearsal, a critical part of the process – about which much more will be said, in another issue!