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What does a Navy SEAL have in common with The Little Mermaid? Well, not much really, but in recent weeks I had the privilege of seeing both live. I promise this will not be a discussion about my diverse interests. Really what the two occasions do have in common is proof that preparation and rehearsal lead to the results you desire.

While attending the annual CounselWorks SummerTime Summit, I had the honor of listening to a member of the Navy SEAL’s Team 6, responsible for the killing of Osama bin Laden. As he talked about the lead-up to the mission, he stressed how much preparation and rehearsal they went through before heading out on their mission. This is a group of elite individuals who each obviously knew what he was doing, but running through these exercises allowed them to quickly respond if and when things do not go according to plan. Like, say, one of their helicopters crashing on approach.

I also had the opportunity to sit through a theatrical performance of The Little Mermaid. This too was a group of seasoned professionals who likely already knew the story, the songs and their lines. But there is a need to practice and rehearse in order to make each performance seamless. Without the right preparation, lines would be flubbed and the timing would be off.

All too often, we have witnessed presentations by executives who clearly had not thought through specifically what they want to say. This is embarrassing for the presenter and uncomfortable for the audience. More importantly, this ends up being a wasted opportunity and can be a bad reflection on both the individuals and the organizations they are representing.

Let’s imagine a senior level executive who is about to speak in front of the Board of Directors for the first time. His idea of preparing is to jot down notes on a napkin just moments before he speaks. The end result is that he stumbles and never quite recovers.

Now, think about a CEO who is about to give a keynote speech in front of an important industry trade event, which includes clients, competitors, peers and members of the media. He is meant to speak for more than a half hour, but after only a few minutes he runs out of material and exits the stage.

In these examples, both executives knew their subject matter better than anyone in the room. But without giving the talking points proper attention and not rehearsing what was to be said, these opportunities were a huge failure.

At our firm, we view every client pitch, panel discussion and keynote speech as an opportunity to effectively convey a company’s key messages. Approaching each of these events in this manner reinforces the need to prepare properly and rehearse. These are the most critical steps in effective delivery, but are often overlooked, or just not taken seriously.

In an ideal situation, you should prepare and rehearse with a professional coach who can help simplify and organize what needs to be conveyed. You also can try your speech or pitch on your communications team, your colleagues—even your family. Traveling alone or in a time crunch? Look in the mirror and practice out loud what you will say. Work out the kinks, hear yourself say the words, and get comfortable with your content. Enough practice will help you begin your presentation smoothly, keep your audience engaged and allow you to continue with your delivery should you stumble–or if something beyond your control goes wrong.

Melissa Daly has worked in media relations and financial communications for more than 20 years. Melissa formed MFD Communications, a strategic consulting firm, after spending three years at Goldman Sachs as Vice President, Corporate Communications. Prior to that, Melissa was a Director at Brunswick Group, a London-based financial and business communications firm. There, she spearheaded its financial services business in the US, managing communications for hedge fund, private equity, insurance and traditional asset management firms. Melissa also worked at Fred Alger Management, The Hartford and Lipper in communications and media relations roles and has frequently appeared on CNBC and CNN as an industry commentator. Her experience spans across business sectors and continents. For more, please visit www.mfdcommunications.com.