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Thinking that the Think System is good enough on its own? Think again

Jul 25, 2019

In Meredith Willson’s 1957 Broadway hit “The Music Man” (in which I was lucky enough to have a leading role eons ago), a traveling salesman comes to small-town Iowa posing as a band director to scam parents out of money for uniforms and instruments.  Without any plans to do any actual teaching, Harold Hill convinces them that he’s legitimate by explaining his revolutionary new music-learning method called ‘The Think System.’  “If you want to play the Minuet in G, think the Minuet in G.”  Eventually, Harold is caught in his scheme and is forced to prove his worth by leading the band in front of the whole town.  By using Harold’s ‘Think System’, the outcome for the boys is a performance only a mother could love.  Lucky for him, the mothers did love it.

Oddly enough, many people use this same approach when it comes to their presentations.  They spend most of their time crafting and re-crafting the slide deck, and then just think through the material a few times before presenting, as though this is enough.  The result is often an under-prepared improvisation that goes over time.  Creating a great slide deck and doing some mental prep is very useful, but what people will remember is the conviction behind and confidence of the performance itself, which often gets short-changed by lack of practice. 

Others have told me they don’t practice their pitches because they prefer to be ‘authentic.’  Not everything that is authentic should be shared… morning breath comes to mind.  Consider practicing your pitch the same as showering and brushing your teeth, a sort of performance hygiene.  You’d want to show your best, wouldn’t you?

The Think System does have some value.  Mental imagery is a powerful tool used by athletes and performing artists to visualize the move or sound they want to make toward a positive, successful result.  But it’s there to aid, not replace the mental and physical musculature that’s built over time by actually doing it.  Our breath, body, lips, teeth and tongue need to walk and talk the words we carefully craft, and by doing so, develop a relationship with them.  They are the performers. It might start by framing the thought, but the actual sharing is a physical experience.

What walking and talking your content helps you achieve:


  •  Highlights areas for improvement
  •  Creates alignment by getting the voice, body and brain to work together
  •  Helps you practice appropriate pacing for both you and your audience
  •  Creates a measure of accountability in your own performance practice
  •  Builds confidence and lays the foundation for future success


We could work on content until the cows come home. We almost never have the luxury of feeling as prepared as we’d like.  Practice doesn’t make the presentation perfect; it makes the presentation manageable and more enjoyable for everyone, most of all ourselves.

One thing we can take from Harold Hill is that he was a true performer – even when he was making it up, he could still sell it with a smile.

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