You Can’t Build a Skyscraper on a Concrete Slab
By Brian Krogh
One World Trade Center in New York City is one of the world’s more impressive structures. Currently, it is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the sixth tallest building in the world.
Certainly, what we see when we look at the structure – One World Trade Center’s geometric, modern design and 94 stories – is quite impressive. But, when you look at a structure like One World Trade Center, or your own dwelling for that matter, do you ever consider what you cannot see? You should, because in construction – and in presenting – what we cannot see has a dramatic impact on what we can see.
On July 4th, 2004 workers laid the cornerstone of One World Trade Center. Construction began in earnest in the summer of 2006. Finally, on May 17, 2008 after much hard work, engineering, thousands of hours of labor and incredible amounts of concrete and steel, One World Trade Center reached street level.
Wait, street level?
Yes, after two long years – nearly four years after the cornerstone was laid – the building reached the ground. Most of us will never see the foundation of One World Trade Center, we will just marvel at the impressive expanse of the above-ground structure, however, nothing we see would exist without the things we do not see.
The work we see impresses us, but the work done in obscurity is incredibly important. Without the work done out of sight, the building would be far less impressive or fail to exist at all.
The same is true in public speaking.
When we watch a great presenter and assume they just have “it” we forget the importance of the work put in behind the scenes.
The reason Tiger Woods, Serena Williams or Steph Curry hits the one shot everyone marvels at is because they hit thousands (perhaps millions?) of shots when no one was around. The reason your favorite TED speaker or communicator gives an incredible talk every time you see them is because of all the work done when you could not see them.
In spite of this fact, most of us do not take the time necessary to build a solid foundation for our own presentations.
In a survey of executives by Distinction Communication, 86.1% of respondents said that presentation skills directly impact their career and income, yet only 25% stated they practiced more than two hours for a “high-stakes” presentation.
In contrast, communication expert Nancy Duarte writes that for a one-hour presentation she spends between 36 to 90 hours in preparation and practice!
Great presenters do not stand on a stage and wing it. Neither should you.
Many of your colleagues try to build a skyscraper presentation on a concrete slab foundation. But you are different. You know your most important work is done in obscurity. Put in the difficult hours preparing, revising, building, and practicing when no one is around and you will shine in the moment all eyes are on you.
“Construction of One World Trade Center”
Duarte, Nancy. Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences. John Wiley & Sons, 2010. xxi.
Duarte, Nancy. Slide:Ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations. O’Reilly, 2011. 13.