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 public speaker and a more persuasive business presenter.
The Murder Board is a realistic simulation of the actual presentation to be made. Colleagues role-play the audience, asking the types of questions his 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, 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 you make the actual presentation.
What is a Murder Board?
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. Just as with the actor, the witness and the pilot, this simulation permits the presenter to learn from his or her mistakes, so that the actual presentation is more responsive to the informational needs of the audience; answers are developed for likely questions to be asked; and overall speaking confidence and competence are 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 of 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.
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 school curriculum. The audience for this crucible frequently includes 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.
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 a.m., the second at 6:30 a.m., the third in front of two generals an 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 question the chairman might ask.
Why have a Murder Board?
This painstaking practice session is just as important in a business presentation with millions of contract dollars at stake. It 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 assuming they 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.
Larry Tracy, author of The Shortcut to Persuasive Presentations, is a retired Army colonel who now conducts executive presentations coaching workshops. Visit www.tracy-presentation.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.