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Internet Marketing and Public Speaking: The Murder Board Practice

I recently posted an article titled "Internet Marketing and Public Speaking: Ten Tips for When the Twain Shall Meet." One of the tips concerned a means to practice your sales presentation with a "Murder Board." I received several emails requesting a fuller explanation of this practice method.

I decided to write two explanatory articles, so vital is this method to improve one's public speaking, specifically in preparing a presentation aimed at selling off-line your on-line product. In this article, I'll provide an in-depth explanation of this practice method; in the second, I'll cover the seven steps need for a successful Murder Board.

Simply stated, the Murder Board is a realistic simulation of the actual presentation to be made. Colleagues role-play the audience, asking the type of questions they believe this specific group is likely to ask. It is intended to be more difficult than the actual presentation.

If you want to become an effective and persuasive presenter to boost your on-line marketing, this realistic practice session is the most effective shortcut to speaking excellence. It allows you to make your mistakes when they don't count, increasing the odds that you will shine when the actual presentation is made.

The Origin of the Murder Board

The term Murder Board has its origins within the U.S. military, specifically within the extensive training system of the U.S. Army. When a person has been selected to be an instructor at an Army school, he or she must go through a demanding instructor training program.

Graduation and designation as an instructor is dependent not on a written test, but successful delivery of a 50 minute class from the curriculum of the school.

The audience for this crucible can be instructors who have gone through their own Murder Board, and are determined that this would-be instructor will experience the same frustration and humiliation they did. They ask tough, realistic, questions, the type of questions their students are asking.

At the end of the 50 minute class, the aspiring instructor gets a a thumbs up-meaning he or she can now join this band of brothers and sisters as an instructor, or a thumbs-down, meaning another "opportunity" to go through a Murder Board.

Lessons from the Pentagon

This realistic simulation has permeated the military culture. As an example, when I ran the Defense Intelligence Agency's (DIA) briefing team, we had three Murder Boards before the daily briefing to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The first one was at 5:30 AM, the second at 6:30 AM, the third in front of two General officers and all the analysists, one hour later. By the time my briefer or I was standing in front of the Chairman, those intense sessions had provided the right answers to virtually any conceivable question the Chairman was likely to ask.

Why have a Murder Board?

This painstaking practice session has two overriding objectives:

1. Hone delivery skills

2. Anticipate probable questions and objections so succinct, accurate answers can be developed.

Many presenters, while accepting the need to sharpen delivery skills, reject the idea of a Murder Board, confident they can anticipate the difficult questions likely to be asked, and need not practice in front of others, especially their peers. These people may actually be displaying a false bravado to mask their discomfort at speaking in front of a group, perhaps exposing their lack of skill in the presentation art, and/or their apprehension at giving a less than sterling performance in front of their colleaqgues.

They are also very mistaken. I have given more than 3000 presentations, and always find it beneficial to conduct a Murder Board before an important talk. No matter how hard we try to think of tough questions that may be asked, a little censor in our mind generally provides only questions to which we already have answers. In my executive training workshops, I always emphasize the importance of a Murder Board, and the practice presentations made by my clients are set up as Murder Boards to get them accustomed to this simulation.

I am in good company in believing that we need other minds to assist us in preparing for a sales or other presentation.. The man who possessed perhaps the greatest mind of the 20th Century, Albert Einstein, realized that even he needed help. He once said:

"What a person does on his own, without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of others, is even in the best cases rather paltry and monotonous."

The Murder Board is the presenter's version of the actor's dress rehearsal, what lawyers do in preparing a witness to face cross-examination in a trial, what the flight simulator is to the pilot.

Just as with the actor, the witness, and the pilot, this simulation permits the presenter to learn from his/her mistakes, so that the actual presentation is (1) more responsive to the informational needs of the audience, (2) answers are developed for likely questions to be asked, and (3) overall speaking confidence and competence enhanced.

The Murder Board enables you to visualize the presentation in advance. Not only is proficiency in speaking increased by such a meticulous practice, so too is self-confidence. Public speaking ranks high in the pantheon of phobias because, in large measure, of the apprehension that one is going to be embarrassed by not being able to answer questions from the audience.

If you have been able to anticipate questions, then you can develop answers ahead of time. Think back to when you were in college or graduate school. Your GPA would probably have been higher if you could have seen the questions before the final exams. The Murder Board permits the presenter a look at the audience's probable "exam questions."

The only obstacle to developing a question-anticipating simulated presentation is your imagination and willingness to take hard hits in practice so you can be more effective in the actual presentation.

Copyright 2005 Larry Tracy

This article is excerpted from Larry Tracy's book, The Shortcut to Persuasive Presentations. Larry, a retired Army colonel, has been cited in numerous publications as one of the top presentation skills trainers in the US. His website is at top of Google for "persuasive presentations. Visit it for FREE tips and additional articles: http://www.tracy-presentation.com

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