Hate Rehearsing? Blame Your Caveman Ancestors

Bob Wiesner | October 24, 2017

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Successful presenting and pitching requires rehearsal. I rarely get an argument about this, at least in principle.

When I do get pushback, it’s usually from an individual who feels that rehearsal is necessary for everyone else. Not for him or her.  (No scientific evidence, but as I recall it’s usually a him.)

I’ve heard every possible excuse.

“I don’t need to rehearse – I’ve done this a thousand times before.”

“When I rehearse I get stale (or sound rehearsed or lose my edge or whatever).”

“I’ve got to work on the content to get it right. I need that (rehearsal) time to do it.”

Yet there may be one overarching reason why people don’t want to rehearse – and no one will ever admit it: They’re afraid.

What on earth are they afraid of? University of Texas psychologist Art Markman might have nailed it in this Fast Company article.  He goes back to caveman days when one would need to prove his worth as a hunter.  Humans, Art says, have elaborate mechanisms “for evaluating others’ competence and trustworthiness.”  He goes on to say

In the modern world, all these social mechanisms come into play in public speaking. Standing in front of a group gives everyone a chance to evaluate your abilities. What if they conclude that you’re not actually that valuable to the team? That could be devastating.

Now I get it.  You don’t want to rehearse because you feel that you – not your message or product or organization – are going to be evaluated during that rehearsal.  Rather than see rehearsal as a chance to do better in the pitch itself, you see it as a threat to your social status.  You’re vulnerable, exposed, in front of your team, which might include your boss and/or your direct reports.  And other research has documented that threats to social status are as powerful in modern humans than threats to physical safety were to ancient humans.

Now I get it. We’d rather just do our presentation in front of the client, not our colleagues, teammates or coach.  If the client doesn’t buy whatever’s being recommended, we won’t feel threatened or rejected.  We’ll see it as a problem with the proposal or product, or perhaps with the client.

Look.  Feedback is a gift.  And rehearsal can be a chance to get feedback.  Would you rather discover mistakes in front of the client or during rehearsal?  If fear is somehow driving your reluctance to rehearse, push it aside. There’s way more upside than downside.

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