Anyone who has to do a lot of public speaking can attest to the power of preparation. As the saying goes: perfect preparation prevents poor performance. I too have learned this to be true – it’s so important to keep your finger on the pulse and know what you’re talking about. But I’ve also learned that nobody likes a stiff conversation or presentation. You’ll be better received if you put a bit of yourself into what you’re doing, and adapt to your surroundings.
As Regina Brett, who wrote 45 Lessons Life Taught Me, advises: “Over-prepare, then go with the flow.” This has been my approach to business and public affairs. You’ll never see me give a PowerPoint presentation; instead I prefer to speak from the heart. And it’s rare that you’ll see me give a rehearsed speech; I’m a much bigger fan of question and answer sessions. What’s more, if the situation calls for it – often to the surprise of the person on stage with me – it’ll completely go off plan and ask for audience interaction.
And if you do freeze up, or lose your way, then Regina has some great advice: “When in doubt, just take the next small step.” This has always been a bit of a mantra for me. I entered the music business, and started Virgin, not knowing anything about the workings of the industry. The same thing can be said about my knowledge of the airline industry when we started Virgin Atlantic. I didn’t know the rules, or what big moves to make, I just knew that I wanted to disrupt things and create much-needed change – which we managed to do through continuously taking the next small step and learning along the way.
It doesn’t matter how smart you are: no one knows everything, and everyone needs to stop and assess the situation from time to time. Over half a century in business – and 66 years of life – I’ve learned the power of preparation, but I’ve also learned never to restrict myself to an inflexible plan. Life’s more fun when you go with the flow and live in the moment.