Throughout Europe and the Mediterranean is enduring evidence of an ancient Roman empire.
Remnants of impregnable fortifications. Immense arenas and amphitheaters. Vast public plazas and imposing temples.
Then there are the great aqueducts; mammoth public works spanning broad valleys to bring water across terrific distances to thirsty towns and cities.
This is a big Wow. After two millennia of wars and natural upheavals, many of these works — built without structural steel or similar “modern” technologies — continue to stand. Some still carry water to this day. They are remarkable monuments to design, engineering and building skill.
How have these aqueducts — like so many other Roman structures — survived when most later generations of buildings long ago crumpled into rubble?
My guess is the unequivocal way Roman builders were held accountable for their efforts. Legend has it that as the supporting scaffoldings and other temporary buttressing were removed for the first time, the designers and chief engineers would be required to stand beneath the arches. It was their code, their standard of professional performance, to be the first proof of their respective talents; the ultimate show of confidence that the job was done right and the resulting product indeed was ready to present to the world.
Now fast forward two thousand years… Just imagine for a moment how much better our contemporary speeches and presentations might be if the people making them were required to listen to them first. What if the presenter had to perform the equivalent task of standing under the arch as its capacity to withstand gravity was tested?
I’d like to think those of us in the audience would enjoy a vastly improved performance. We would hear content expressed cogently, crisply, with passion and interest, stripped of extraneous detail, flabby language, confusing digressions.
We would be spared meaningless PowerPoint exhibitions.
We would witness a speaker visibly interested in expressing an idea rather than simply enduring a speaking requirement.
It can be done. For instance, most public speaking self-help books suggest the presenter rehearse with a tape recorder of some sort. This is good advice. Hear yourself as others would and you will realize where you can improve.
Many coaches — myself included — rely on video to capture a rehearsal so the presenter can both see and hear herself before an audience does. The impact can be astonishing.
Take for instance some of these reactions:
“I had no idea I did that with my arms!”
“I don’t look like I believe what I’m saying, do I?”
“Wow, do I really talk that fast?”
“You know, I could have sworn I was speaking in complete sentences.”
“Wait a minute, what was my point with that last part?”
These are folks who stood under the arch. Full marks for them. They invested the time and realized there was a bit more engineering that needed to be done before they were truly ready to unveil their presentation to the world.
Their reward: A presentation that was complete, cogent, cohesive…able to stand on its own merits, with a delivery that was confident, practiced, well-paced.
As for the audience, rather than endure a fragmented assembly of words, jerky body motions, and half-formed ideas, they enjoyed a meaningful and worthwhile journey, clear of detours. They could focus on the value of the message rather than be distracted by the clumsiness of the messenger.
As you plan your next presentation, consider standing under the arch. Think not about yourself, or even the details of what you have to say. Think first about your audience and their expectations for a program that satisfies their need for information clearly, concisely and confidently expressed.
Craft your presentation with the means to endure. Give your audience reason to remember its message. It’s absolutely worth the extra time and effort.