Carving Words

When I first started public speaking, I admired other speakers who were able to “wing it”, coming up with an incredible speech on the fly, in the moment. Somehow these speeches seemed more relevant and authentic, but also more impossible for me to ever achieve.

Unfortunately (so I thought), I wasn’t very good at winging it. My talks required lots of thought, reflection, and preparation.

Thinking on your feet is definitely an important skill, but for most speakers – even seasoned ones – it’s not the norm. Good speeches can takes hours upon hours to craft.

I love Jerry Seinfeld’s New York Times interview How to Write a Joke, where he explains the tedious process of crafting a joke as a comedian. He talks about carefully shaving words and syllables to make sure the joke lands just right.

Great comedians appear spontaneous on stage, but you never see the hours of sweat and tears that go into each joke in their set.

Introverts sometimes feel insecure about their inability to think on the fly. But Susan Cain, in her book Quiet, points to this a strength. Those who think and process before opening their mouths often have rich things to say once they do.

How do you prepare for talks? Are you a “wing it” kind of person, or do you spend hours carefully crafting each word?