PAPER TWO : The Simple Speech - Continued
4. Preparing Yourself - Preliminaries
Well, of course everything we’ve said so far is about preparing yourself as well as preparing the audience. We’ve considered thinking about the initial PURPOSE of the speech, and then PREPARING YOUR MIND to win over this audience. We will eventually need to come to the PARTICULAR DETAILS that will form the Content of this speech, but before we do that, go back to what we twice asked earlier, that you write down the Purpose of the Speech – possibly communicating information, possibly introducing someone, possibly bringing instructions to others of how they need to work, possibly conveying vision, or possibly even entertaining people.
Step back from those legitimate things for a moment. Without doubt those may be good and legitimate things you want to achieve, but is that all?
Those are the things YOU will be doing, but there is also what you hope the audience is doing. At the very least, I would suggest that you hope that:
- They will accept (like) you – because if they do, it will help them more readily receive what you are saying, and
- They will buy into all you say, so much so that they will DO something in response to what they have heard from you. (Even if it’s entertaining, they will go away happier).
Remember from the end of our Introductory Page, we noted that Mark Twain apparently said, “But I... never could make a good impromptu speech without several hours to prepare it.”
You CAN leap in and do an impromptu talk or speech but only if you really know anything and everything about your area of expertise, but it is much safer to prepare thoroughly.
5. Know your Audience
I once had opportunity to speak twice to the same audience in a particular community, with a week between the two talks. I thoroughly prepared, or so I thought, and came with an intellectually stimulating talk based on certain information and principles. I had been asked to speak for an hour, and five minutes in, I was wishing I was somewhere else. It went down like the proverbial lead balloon!
Afterwards, I was speaking with the organiser and was highly apologetic about the poor reception. As we talked, I asked questions about the people who had been in the audience. Eventually I couldn’t help but burst out with, “But you didn’t tell me... you led me to believe that...” The sort of people who usually attended this particular community gathering had been either middle class or college students, and I had pitched it accordingly. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the audience I had had that night (and was going to get next week) was from a poorer, less well educated part of the community. They got bored with ‘principles’ and ‘ideas’. With a little thought (OK, a lot of thought and heart searching!), I turned the following week’s talk from principle-based to story-based – and they loved it. I still wonder why they came back the second week after having suffered for an hour at my hands on the first week!
Over the years I have had teaching opportunities with law students in this country, and with Americans in the States. In both cases the same problem arose – that of using language appropriate to the audience.
As much as I have said to law students, “Please wave a hand at me if I use a word or phrase you don’t understand,” I have come to learn that it takes a courageous and bold student to do it. It has happened, but mostly I have had to watch myself and pick myself up on words they may not be familiar with.
When speaking in the USA (and other countries around the world) I have found trouble with idioms, specific cultural language and word uses. You only tend to realise what you’ve just done by watching for furrowed brows. We don’t realise how many idioms we use until we are speaking to people from another culture. Mundane uses of different words, like ‘trunk’ for ‘boot’ (of the car) and ‘diapers’ for ‘nappies’, I can handle but in one place they looked at me strangely when I used the word ‘fortnight’. What?
In its simplest form this translates down to: Know your audience and use language appropriate to them!
Unless you are with a specialist technical audience cut out the use of acronyms – look them up on the Internet and there are pages on pages of them – don’t use them! And don’t talk down to audiences and beware stepping out of your comfort zone. Do you know the best people to talk to teachers? Teachers (not educationalists!). Do you know who is best at speaking to doctors? Other doctors! Trying to cross cultural, class or career boundaries is sometimes fraught with danger!
If you are asked to do a talk to OAP’s in the middle of a hot afternoon, don’t be surprised if half of them fall asleep, however good you are! If you are asked to talk to school children remember a) their interests are probably not the same as yours, b) they won’t appreciate you trying to be like them and appearing ‘cool’, c) stick to what the teacher asked you to talk about and d) get them to talk back if you can.
Whoever you are speaking to, never try to impress; just be you and tell it as you see it and if you miss the target, hope you’ll be given another opportunity to redeem yourself – or give up public speaking!
6. Know your Subject
Once, many years ago, I became known for a particular thing I did in the community and fame does you little good. I was invited to go and speak at another community event, alongside a well known speaker. The only difference was that he was good and spoke out of years of experience and I was utter rubbish having done one thing and full only of youthful but ignorant enthusiasm. Never ever again! I still go cold thinking about it!
Go back again and again to our two favourite quotes:
“The best way to sound like you know what you're talking about is to know what you're talking about.”
“But I... never could make a good impromptu speech without several hours to prepare it.”
So there are the simple lessons: make sure you know everything about your subject and then take careful time to prepare the talk.
7. Some Basics about the Talk
1. What you need to say,
2. How you can say it, does it need breaking up into separate memorable points (not too many – 3 or 4 is traditional),
3. Whether you need PowerPoint support and handouts,
4. Whether you need illustrations and anecdotes,
5. How long that is going to take.
An Approach you could try:
- Jot down headings
- Put some brief notes with each of those headings on another sheet of paper.
- Do a practice run using the notes and see how long it takes.
- Now do the practice run with only the headings.
The more you do these things, the easier they become. The reason we recommend the absence of copious notes is because if you read from a script, it sounds boring. Yes, great speakers often use a tele-prompt, but they’ve been at it for years and practice it again and again until they can do it well the first time they see the words.
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Continuation to Part 3 of this Article