The holiday period is a time to relax and recharge your batteries for the challenges to come. If you’re a professional speaker, it’s an opportunity to think about what you do and how to do it even better. And if you’re someone who’s new to public speaking, it’s a time to seek advice about how to do it well.
One of the most demanding stages of preparing to speak in public is working out what you want to say, and turning the material you come up with into something that will interest and inform your audience. With these thoughts in mind, I offer you a modest holiday gift: a medley of tips on how to prepare – and write – a speech or presentation that will make an audience sit up and listen.
Think about why you’re giving your speech or presentation. What do you want your audience to do, know, or feel, as a result of experiencing it? Is this the best format for achieving your aims? For example, speeches and presentations are a very inefficient means of sharing lots of content – consider an emailed pdf instead!
Who are you talking to? What’s in it for them to listen to you? Think about what will interest them, and start planning your presentation from there.
Don’t drown your audience in content. Work out your key message, and stick to it. Write it out in the form of a proposition – a brief sentence that asserts or denies something about your content. ‘My day at the zoo’ is not a proposition. ‘All zoos should be banned’ is a proposition. Propositions make content interesting because they express a point of view. Use your proposition as the spine for your whole speech or presentation.
Beginnings, middles and endings
Begin with something that grabs your audience’s attention and keeps them listening. Never make more than three points. And end by repeating your key message.
People are easily bored, so keep your audience with you from start to finish by summing up, clarifying and using verbal signposts throughout.
Write your script
Even when speaking ‘off the cuff’, write out a draft in full first. And then break it down into sections and keyword notes later. If you read from a script, design it in short, well-spaced sentences, and use a large font.
Keep it concrete
Avoid abstract language. Give plenty of examples, and use stories, case studies and analogies to illustrate and clarify your points.
Your speech or presentation will almost certainly be better received if you avoid using PowerPoint. But, if after writing it you feel the need to show some slides, use PowerPoint sparingly!
Rehearse out loud, and time yourself. Don’t memorise word-for-word, but practise speaking from your notes and looking out at your audience.
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes, and write down any questions you think they will want to put to you when you’ve finished speaking. Prepare your answers, but be ready to deal with the unexpected, too!
PS This post is one of a number of contributions to Angela DeFinis’s first “blog carnival” Visit her website to read the other guest blogs – http://www.definiscommunications.com/blog/public-speaking-and-the-holidays/