Public Speaking

NOTES ON PUBLIC SPEAKING – provided by Bahiya of Bristol Buddhist Centre

“The human brain is a wonderful thing, it starts working even before we are born. It only ceases the moment we rise to our feet to give a speech”  Anon

For some, giving a talk, speech or public presentation of is an exciting and interesting prospect.  For others it is their worse nightmare.  The following are some simple tips for both the novice and the experienced speaker.

PREPARING THE TALK
To present a poorly prepared talk is to insult your audience.  The best way to overcome nerves is to be confident that you have taken care to thoroughly prepare both the content and the presentation of your talk.

Every talk should have a definable beginning, middle and end.

The opening:  When composing the talk, make sure that you give great consideration to the first 30 seconds.  Your opening remarks must engage the audience.  Use a challenging statement, an amusing anecdote, or a profound remark.  Unless you capture the attention of your audience right at the start, you are going to find it an up hill slog.  Another way is to structure the opening with a series of verbal bullet points setting out the main elements of the talk to follow.  This is a rather clichéd structure but works well for the novice.  You set out the points to be covered, then give the talk, then summarise.  The is often summarised as:
Tell ’em what you are going to tell ‘em;
Tell ‘em;
Tell ‘em what you told ‘em.

Once you have won the attention of the audience, your talk should move seamlessly to the middle element.

The middle:  This is the main body of the talk.  The best way to set out the body of your talk is by formulating a series of points that you would like to cover.  The points should be organised so that they follow one another logically, each point building upon the previous one. This will also give your talk a natural progression, making the job of the listener a far easier one.

The end:  Like your opening, the closing of your speech must contain some of your strongest material. You should view the closing of your talk as an opportunity to:

Once you have won the attention of the audience, your talk should move seamlessly to the middle element.The middle:  This is the main body of the talk.  The best way to set out the body of your talk is by formulating a series of points that you would like to cover.  The points should be organised so that they follow one another logically, each point building upon the previous one. This will also give your talk a natural progression, making the job of the listener a far easier one.The end:  Like your opening, the closing of your speech must contain some of your strongest material. You should view the closing of your talk as an opportunity to:

· Summarise the main points
· Provide some further food for thought for your listeners
· Leave your audience with positive memories of your talk
· Choose the final thought/emotion

WRITE AND REHEARSE THE TALK
Unless you are an extremely experienced speaker, don’t try and read your talk verbatim.  Firstly, it will become flat and lacking in spontaneity. 

Secondly, if you are at all nervous, this will be communicated through the shuffling of the notes or the trembling of the paper it is written upon. 

Finally, there is always a great chance that you will lose your place and plunge into and embarrassing silence whilst you try to remember where you were.

Once you have agreed on the content of your talk, write it out in full.  Read it through a couple of times, tidying up and correcting.  Run through the talk, speaking out loud.  It may look fine when written down but sound awkward when spoken.  Now highlight the key-points and write them onto cards using large letters and coloured felt-tip pens.  Number the cards, punch a hole in the corners and thread them on string or a key-ring – if you drop them, they will remain in order.  Each keyword will be a prompt for the next point in your talk.

Run through the talk again using the prompt cards.  Check the timing and adjust it to suit the time allotted for the talk.  Remember, when you are nervous, there is a tendency to talk faster, so either add a little more content to allow for this, or make a conscious effort to speak slower.

HOW LONG TO TALK
Even the most charismatic of speakers struggle to hold the attention of their audience after 40 minutes.  Most of us would do well to do so for 30 minutes.  The best length, if you wish to hold your audience to the end, is 20 minutes.  Of course, you can engineer breaks by asking the audience to respond to questions you pose.  This requires experience as it can tend to degenerate into a free-for-all if control is not firmly taken back by the speaker after 5 minutes or so.

GIVING THE TALK
Speak clearly and make sure you can be heard – but without shouting.  There is nothing worse than a speaker who cannot be heard or whose voice gets progressively quieter as the talk goes along.  If you are a friend of a speaker who talks too quietly, do them a favour by interrupting and asking if they can speak a little louder.

* Make eye contact with everyone in the room, looking fully to your left and right, front and back.  Make each member of the audience think that you are addressing them personally.
* Don’t be afraid to use pauses to allow key points to be absorbed or to allow the audience to respond to any humour.
* When you say ‘…and finally” make sure that it really is your final point and don’t drag it out.  The audience will anticipate that the talk is drawing to a close and will be irritated if you go on too long.

WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR HANDS
If you don’t naturally use hand gestures, then don’t try to do so.  If you aren’t using them, allow gravity to take care of the problem.  Don’t put them in your pockets.

ANSWERING QUESTIONS
If you intend to take questions, make it clear that you will do so at the end of the talk.  When a question is asked, repeat it to ensure everyone in the room knows what it was.  When responding, do so to the whole audience; don’t let it become a dialog between you and the questioner.  If you don’t know the answer, say so.  No one likes a smart-arse and often warm to a speaker who is prepared to admit that they don’t know.  If you say, “I will find out.” ensure that you do so, noting the questioner’s name.

VISUAL AIDS
There are all sorts of statistics to illustrate that the content of a talk supported by visual aids of some sort is far more readily retained, but if they are not relevant, they can be a distraction.

DON’T
* jingle car keys and loose change in your pockets
* use ‘ers’ and ‘ahs’ as they indicate that you don’t know what to say next
* use jokes or humorous references unless you really know your audience or are very confident of your ability to pull it off. 
* use defensive body language (crossing arms across chest, etc.)
* distribute notes before the talk, do it afterwards
* take a drink to steady your nerves – it can be fatal
* start with an apology – no one wants to listen to a loser

DO
* check zippers, bra straps and other bits before you stand up
* remember you are amongst friends; enjoy giving the talk and smile occasionally
* ask friends for feedback

Bahiya 30 January 2007

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