You’re about to ask your boss for a raise.
You’ve got a big pitch meeting with a potential client in five minutes.
It’s time to negotiate your first home purchase.
The adrenaline’s pumping. The stakes are high. You’ve got all the salient points of your argument down pat, your various counter-arguments holstered, and you’re ready to give ‘em hell.
Then you open the door, shake some hands, and your body shifts into fight-or-flight mode. Your conscious, analytic mind shuts down.
Like a battle, an intense personal interaction is too demanding to properly think about what you’re doing as you do it. You just act, shoot from the hip, work from your instincts. All your preparation goes out the window.
Five, twenty, forty-five minutes later, you’re done. Shake hands again and walk out.
It’s not like your mind went blank. You were mentally engaged for the entire encounter. But you only got to some of your most important points.
The meeting may have gone well, but you wonder how much better things might have gone if you’d remembered all those great points when you needed them.
Enter the Prep Card, your indispensable tool for any high-stakes talk.
Don’t Trust Your Brain
That’s not fair, actually. Your brain’s awesome. It’s a powerful machine doing incredibly demanding work: going toe-to-toe with one or more brains with opposing interests.
Some meetings are the equivalent of playing three games of chess at once. You’re making arguments and parrying others as you strive to give the best impression possible, make your strongest case, and, of course, listen to and actually hear what the other people have to say. You can’t expect the brain to do all that and think about what it’s doing at the same time.
That’s why you should never walk leave home without a Prep Card:
Take a 3″ x 5″ index card and write down 3 key points you want to mention in simple clear language, nouns and verbs. At the bottom, give yourself 2 reminders to avoid your bad habits.
- Bill got a raise in half the time, with an inferior track record.
- We will match our competitor’s best bid.
- You’d agreed to a 10% discount over the phone.
- Sit up straight.
- Talk slowly and take a full breath after every sentence.
And it always helps to be reminded not to crack your knuckles or speak too quickly when you have a tendency to do those things under stress.
You Wouldn’t Leave Without Your Wallet or Cellphone, Right?Make writing out a Prep Card an integral part of your preparation for every meeting. It’s a great habit to get into.
In The Elements of Style, E.B. White writes, “The act of composition, or creation, disciplines the mind; writing is one way to go about thinking, and the practice and habit of writing not only drain the mind but supply it, too.”
Whatever you do, don’t bring more than one card. Less is more, here. You won’t even have the presence of mind to shuffle through a few cards in a truly engaged confrontation. You need your big guns right there in front of you.
A good, clear prep card can be truly reassuring in a fray. No matter how flustered you get, you can always look down at the card and go back to a key point.
Naturally, prep cards are also useful for informal presentations to a crowd. For a formal one, you’re better off outlining your entire speech but for a casual talk having 3 key points to work with is a perfectly acceptable amount of preparation.
Do you have your own method to prep for mental battle? Let us know in the comments.