Winston Churchill followed an old principle that says that if you have to give a speech for two hours, you need just half an hour to prepare the talk. But if you have to give a speech for just 20 minutes, you need perhaps three hours to prepare for it.
That is also the reason why it is more difficult to write a short story than to write a novel. The novel gives you space and time. The short story contains you within narrow boundaries.
It is also true while writing a column for Moneylife – which has to be contained within 800 words!
However, whether long or short, speech or the written word, short memo, or long project report, Preparation Is Essential.
And having no time, or being too busy, is no excuse for being caught out on this score.
There are people I have seen, even 40 years ago, who were outstanding speakers, such as Prakash Tandon, chairman of Hindustan Lever, who always made sure he had a little sheet of paper with the points he was going to cover, even if he was addressing a classroom of college students, on a subject he had already mastered!
The report said –“Giving a speech on a global platform can send a chill down many an experienced ones’ spines. One may forget the words, or lose ones voice, but reading the wrong speech is something unthinkable. But this is what he managed to do. He read the wrong speech at the UN Security Council meeting in New York, earlier this year. After a full three minutes of reading the speech, an Indian chief diplomat pointed out the mistake, that he was reading the speech of his Portuguese counterpart!”
If facepalm is one of the buzzwords of 2011, then this was definitely one of the epic moments. It was a case of throwing to the winds the principle of Preparation Is Essential.
It also reminded me of a seminar I attended many decades ago at the Administrative Staff College of India in Hyderabad. Morarji Desai, the then prime minister of India came to deliver the inaugural address.
All the usual ceremonies were gone through, - the garlands, bouquets, lighting of lamp, and a long introduction (although introduction was not necessary).
Morarjibhai then started his speech. After reading the first three pages (and it was clear he was reading these for the first time), he must have turned two pages at one time by error.
So, he began reading from page 5 instead of from page 4.
But Morarji was smart enough to immediately know that what he was saying now, had no relation to what he had just said. There was no continuity.
His face flushed. He was angry, thinking perhaps that his secretary had made a mistake.
He put the papers aside with “there is something wrong here.”
And he changed to speaking impromptu, for a short exposition on his favourite topic – “The virtues of U therapy.”
The talk ended and dutifully the crowd clapped.
The thank yous were profuse.
But again, a lesson had been learned: that however busy you may be, even for a prime minister, Preparation is essential.
Fifty years later, I still find people making an appearance, when they have not adequately prepared for it.
And, of course, this goes for everything, including travel.
While I am myself emphasising the need for preparation here, I remember, I arrived at Namur station in Belgium, to go to Brussels to take a flight – and only realised at the railway platform that I had forgotten the ticket in my host’s guest room at Namur.
Too late to go back – too expensive to buy a fresh ticket. But there was no choice. A heavy price to be paid, for lack of preparation!
The sooner one learns this lesson, the better. It does not matter what field you choose to specialise in, and the heights of power you achieve.
Never forget to set time aside for Preparation. All of us need not learn this the hard way!
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are "5 Gs of family Business" with Dr Mita Dixit and "Marketing in a Digital/ Data World" with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.