Thursday, June 09, 2011

Public Speaking in a Nutshell

ThThe first concern is always fear. 
a.    Admit it and face it. 
b.    Examine it—why do you have this fear about being in front of 20 people and talking about what you really know about?
                                          i.    Bad experience in the past
                                        ii.    Unknown factors
                                       iii.    Concern about failure
                                       iv.    Concern about rejection
                                        v.    Lack of preparation
c.     Solutions
                                          i.    We are not those people criticized you; you are not that person who failed.  That was then, this is now.
                                        ii.    The more you know your audience, the better.  Is there anything about this group of people that gives you legitimate concerns?  As for me, I have done this long enough that I listen for your voice, not perfection.  Minimize the number of unknown factors by preparation.  Also, always arrive early for a speaking situation so you can acclimate yourself.
                                       iii.    See number v
                                       iv.    See number ii
                                        v.    If you haven’t prepared enough—and that mostly means oral practice, not just writing—you probably will fail.  I have done this for years and don’t take anything for granted when I have to speak.
d.     Also: 
                                          i.    Don’t think of people in their underwear.  That’s just wrong.
                                        ii.    Don’t exaggerate your fears.  Be realistic.  Have you ever had major surgery?  A baby?  That’s much worse!
                                       iii.    Do focus on the message and purpose.  Why is what you are going to say important?
                                       iv.    Take every opportunity (reasonably) to get in front of people to talk.
                                        v.    If true social anxiety, seek professional help. 
                                       vi.    However, this is not usually the case.  I have had lots of students who worked with the public, were hairdressers, salespeople, servers, etc. and could talk to anybody freely—some even performed musically.  But they felt that giving a “speech” in front of ten to thirty people was just beyond their ability, and they were “scared to death.” (there’s that exaggeration thing).  It was just an unknown situation, or they had talked themselves into their fear.
                                      vii.    Yes, we usually talk ourselves into our fears—and we can talk ourselves out.  Self-talk is a big part of dealing with communication anxiety.
                                    viii.    Believe it or not, you never will look as nervous as you feel inside.
                                       ix.    Do stretching exercises to get the extra energy out, or walk around.

2.    Second big element:  What will I say?
a.    Audience, audience, audience.
                                          i.    Know who they are – the more information, the better
                                        ii.    Know what they need/want
                                       iii.    Know what they think about you and your topic/purpose
b.     Sometimes topic/purpose is assigned; other times it’s up to you.  But your first question is always about the audience.
3.    Third big element:  How do I say it?
a.    Some important research on public speaking from back in the 70s and 80s showed that if the speaker does not present an organized speech, then the audience will not organize it for them.  In other words, it will come out a big incoherent mess in the audience’s mind—they may get a point or two, but not the big picture and the logic of what you are doing.
b.    Therefore, before you worry about beautiful language, pretty visuals, or slick nonverbal communication (delivery), worry about STRUCTURE, STRUCTURE, STRUCTURE.
c.    Aristotle said a speech should have a beginning, middle, and end.  Very simple: 
                                          i.    An introduction that gets attention, states your purpose/topic, and previews the main parts of the body;
                                        ii.    the body, which should only have 3-5 main sections and each of those sections should be the same length and not have too many subdivisions themselves;
                                       iii.    and the conclusion, where you summarize and leave the audience with hope or a challenge.  Sounds simple, but it’s not easy.
d.    Beyond structure, keep in mind
                                          i.    The overwhelming power of story.
                                        ii.    That your purpose is more important than your topic.
4.    Fourth big element:  What about delivery?
a.    Practice makes permanent.  You should practice the full presentation at least five times, with visuals, in shoes, out loud, and if possible, in front of some kind of cooperative audience, even the dog (but they tend to go to sleep or walk away).  Ten times is better.
b.    Use your hands if that’s what you do naturally (most people do).
c.    Consciously make yourself slow down.  One thing novice speaker do more than anything else is talk much too fast.  The audience can’t really keep up with you as fast as most people can talk.  Especially slow down in the introduction so the audience can get used to your voice.
d.    Be conscious of posture.  Feet solid on the floor is a good place to start; don’t lock knees, pull shoulders back, think tall.
e.    Eye contact is the most important aspect of how people judge a speaker, second is voice volume and energy.  You must look at your audience more than 50% of the time.  That’s why the practice is needed.
5.     What about the real event?
a.    Get there early, get your visuals ready, and talk to people as they come in.  PowerPoint lets you have the title slide up to set the tone.
b.    Eat protein beforehand for sustained energy.
c.    Wear comfortable clothes but look better than your audience.  If they are going to be in jeans, you wear business casual; if they are in business casual, you do a little more.
d.    Don’t speak until you’ve been at the lectern for a couple of seconds, and don’t talk while leaving.
e.    Only plan to use humor that you know is funny for everybody (always test-drive it!) and do not ad lib.  Major trouble there!  You don’t have to be funny to be an effective speaker.  I don’t remember Dr. King cracking any jokes.
f.     Time limits are not to be violated.  If you are given twenty minutes, take 18, not 28.
g.    Do not start your speech by apologizing.  People didn’t come to listen to you apologize (that is, of course, unless you are Anthony Weiner).
h.    If you don’t know how to pronounce a word, find out or use a synonym.  If you don’t know what a word means, definitely don’t use it.

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