Off the Shelf... and Into the Bin

There's a big, smiling, alluring, come hither temptation when you're asked to give a talk, lecture, or teaching session...

It's understandable. We're all busy. There are plenty of other demands on our time.

So we're very tempted to find the notes on that session we did before, and regurgitate it.



Because yes, sure, it will probably be adequate.

It'll fill the space, tick the box, get a polite round of dutiful applause at the end.

Score you as average/ok/fine on the feedback forms.

But do you really think that's enough?

Sufficient to impress the people in the audience with your, or your company, or organisation's talents?

Spur them to seek out your contact details? And get in touch?

With the prospect of more work?

Not to mention those vital personal recommendations to contacts of their own...

Get this guy/gal in. They were really good. Did a great session, so interesting and informative. 

I'm proud to say, looking back, I don't think I've ever given an off the shelf talk. 

And also, reflecting on some of the photos from events I've done, I wonder if that - at least partly - helps to explain the warmth of the reactions. 

I should make clear here - I'm not saying you have to start from scratch when giving a presentation. 

That'd just be daft.

Why waste the work you've done before, not to mention your experience of what's effective and what isn't?

I'm just saying a little honing can go a long way.

For example, I'm teaching communications for a few days in Scotland next month. 

In my notebooks I have a similar day long course which has worked well before, full of all that's required.

But I'm adapting it. 

The exercises and scenarios now involve Scottish issues. They're based around Edinburgh, not London. 

And I've changed the course a little.

Put in a couple of new sections. Taken out a couple that I didn't think were working so well. Or just could be better.


Because editing is so very vital in making your work as good as it can possibly be.

(Which, for me, is a large part of the definition of being that gold standard, much lauded thing known as a professional.) 

Take, for example, the famous opening line of George Orwell's masterpiece, 1984.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Because Orwell left behind some of his drafting for the book, we can see his original opening line. 

And is it anything like as good? Before he got down to some serious editing?

Have a look for yourself, and see what you think - 

It was a cold day in early April, and a million radios were striking thirteen.

There's something else worth bearing in mind about refreshing and renewing a talk or teaching session. 

It has the excellent additional advantage of keeping you fresh. 

Meaning you put energy and enthusiasm into the delivery.

Rather than plodding through the same stuff that you've done a fair few times before.

Which means it's always going to work better.

Be more engaging. More impactive.

Just a whole downright heap of an improvement.

Believe me, I do understand the temptation to give an off the shelf talk. 

But try looking at the time you put into polishing it, honing it, and personalising it as an investment. 

It's a platform for what you do, after all. A privilege to be invited.

And you're far more likely to generate new work for yourself, or your organisation, that way. 

Not to mention promoting your good name.

So, the next time you catch yourself thinking the dreaded words off the shelf -

It's worth rapidly following them with the wise, worldly, and very worthwhile response - 

Off the shelf... and into the bin.