We’ve all been at meetings, watched panels or seen speeches where participants are bluffing, having failed to do their homework.
Some (many?) of us may even have been the bluffers. Winging it has appeal. It’s a lot less work, for starters. And it can appear charming: Making its practitioners human rather than robotic, fitting the business vogue for authenticity. A few people can genuinely pull it off.
However, beware the faux-wingers (FWs). Anyone who has been to school will be all too familiar with the person who rocks up to an exam claiming not to have done any revision, concealing the fact they studied hard.
Falling for an FW’s spin is a mistake that might cause you to fall flat on your face. One classic FW tool is spontaneity. It looks effortless but can be hard work.
I called an FW friend I’ve known since university, where he would procrastinate by evaluating different types of biscuits. Today he is a senior barrister.
Unsurprisingly, he’s left the biscuits behind, and prepares for cases with rehearsed arguments, strategy and detailed answers, reams of notes, including gags and analogies that appear to have been made on the spot, to keep the audience engaged. “You have to work harder if you want to riff,” he says.
Another friend prepares sports stars to go on television. He works with two sportspeople (frustratingly, he won’t name and shame) who have very different attitudes.
One puts the work in and appears fluent and natural at press conferences, the other puts no effort in and clumsily and inaccurately tries to parrot the words he has been fed.