Murder Board–The Perfect Speech Practice (Part 1)
by Larry Tracy
(c)Tracy Presentation Skills 2006. All rights reserved.
(This article is the first of a four-part series originally published in 2006 and 2007.)
What a name—the Murder Board! It sounds like something Tony Soprano might convene, doesn’t it? But, despite the macabre name, it has nothing to do with a criminal act and everything to do with becoming a better, more persuasive public speaker.
The Murder Board is a realistic simulation of the actual presentation to be made. Colleagues role-play the audience to be faced, firing the type of questions this group is likely to ask. It should be more difficult than the actual presentation.
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, and what the flight simulator is to the pilot.
Benefits and Objectives of the Murder Board
Just as with the actor, the witness, and the pilot, this simulation permits speakers to learn from their mistakes, so that they (1) are more responsive to the informational needs of the audience, (2) have developed answers for likely questions to be asked, and (3) have greater competence in platform skills.
It enables speakers to visualize the presentation in advance. Not only is proficiency in speaking increased by such a meticulous practice, so too is self-confidence.
One of the reasons that public speaking ranks high in the pantheon of phobias is because of apprehension that one is going to be embarrassed by not being able to answer questions from the audience.
In my presentation skills workshops, I place great emphasis on the “Murder Board,” which has two overriding objectives:
- Hone delivery skills, especially important when a script is to be read.
- Anticipate probable questions and objections so succinct, accurate answers can be developed.
This realistic practice session allows speakers to make mistakes when they don’t count, increasing the odds that they will be spellbinders when they address their audiences.
If the speaker is able to anticipate questions, he or she, in collaboration with you and other staff members, 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 probable “exam questions.”
The only obstacle to developing a delivery skills-honing, question-anticipating simulated presentation is willingness to take hard hits in practice in order to be more effective in the actual presentation.
Origin of the Murder Board
The term Murder Board originated 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. I attended two such training programs during my Army career, and the Murder Boards in these programs were far from pleasant experiences.
Graduation and designation as an instructor is not dependent on a written test, but instead on a successful delivery of a 50-minute class from the curriculum of the school.
The audience for this crucible generally consists of 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 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.
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, one hour later. By the time I, or one of my briefers, was in front of the Chairman, those intense sessions had provided the right answers to virtually every question the Chairman asked.
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 assuming they need not practice in front of others.
These people may actually be displaying a false bravado to mask their concern at speaking in front of a group, perhaps exposing their lack of speaking skills.
These “audience members” should familiarize themselves with the concerns of the audience to be faced so they can ask realistic, demanding questions/objections.
I am in good company in believing in the need to have such a practice session in front of others who are role-playing the audience to be faced. 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.”
Perhaps Einstein can help you encourage your practice-resistant bosses and clients to undergo a Murder Board. Then your skillfully crafted speeches will be delivered the way you intended them to be delivered.
For additional information, I have several articles on speech delivery on the Internet. Additionally, my speech “Taming Hostile Audiences” appeared in the March 1, 2005 Vital Speeches of the Day, available at most libraries. That speech was then chosen as the centerpiece of July 2005 American Speaker magazine. The founder and editor of that magazine is Aram Bakshian, Jr., formerly the Chief speech writer for President Ronald Reagan.
In a follow-on article in this space, I’ll outline the seven steps for a productive Murder Board virtually guaranteed to make you a dynamic and persuasive speaker.
Larry Tracy is the president of Tracy Presentation Skills. He has been cited in several publications as one of the top presentation coaches in the US. President Ronald Reagan described him as “an extraordinarily effective speaker.” His book, The Shortcut to Persuasive Presentations, is the textbook for the Oral Presentations course at the Center for Leadership Education at Johns Hopkins University. Contact him at (703) 360-3222 and email@example.com.