The course covered all the various aspects of public speaking, but continually stressed that there is NO ONE BEST WAY, and so you need to find a system that works for you. This will include both how you prepare and how you practice delivering the presentation.
Examples included how people practiced. Some people preferred to work on their own, while others worked together. One of my friends and I started to present to each other, and get feedback. I must admit that Leon was a bit of a natural when it came to public speaking, and needed little help there. He could certainly give me more feedback on my bad habits than I could for him. The reverse was true when it came to content though. I usually looked for really interesting content, whereas he was very factual, and added little in the way of interesting extras. It was almost like his personality was making up for a deficiency in content. We really benefitted from working together.
Two of the other guys chose to work independently. The one produced fantastic results, and clearly working on his own did not impede him. We used to joke with him a bit about how much time he spent in front of his mirror, but practicing in front of the mirror obviously did work for him. The second person that worked on his own did not seem to improve much as the course went on. Since this was a course where every Wednesday for a year we had training and presentations, you would have felt that in that time frame, he would have improved more than he did. The fact was that he just never found a system that worked for him. At points he seemed to try memorising the entire speech, at other times he seemed to be using cards with key words and ad libbing around the subjects on the card. He never seemed to stick with one system long enough to see if it would produce results.
So while I leant many things from the course, what I learnt most from my fellow attendees was that you need to find a system that works for you.
What kind of things do I need to include in my system?
1. When thinking about the delivery of the presentation, decide how you plan to use your wording.Many people do not plan every single word. They work out their frame, their content etc., and then have key issues that they want to talk about. But if they deliver the same presentation more than once, the actual words used are not always exactly the same. This can make your presentation seem more natural, and casual. If that is the effect that you are going for, then certainly use that system. But most great orators have tended to stick to carefully prepared wording. In the modern age, when many public people have their speeches written for them by speechwriters, the use of a teleprompter or any other similar tools ensures that they use the exact words prepared. In this case, you stay focused, and on topic. Maybe this could make your presentations have that little bit more gravitas?
2. Think about what kinds of tools and props that you will be using.Do you feel more comfortable with some than with others? As technology changes, do you need to upgrade your skills? If you have a system worked out, you might not end up using some tool that you are not 100% comfortable with.
3. When preparing your content, do you have a system of doing your research?Do you almost do too much research, and then have to cut back on content and what gets put in, or do you do a little, then work, then do a little more research? Whichever way you work, try to keep it consistent, as that will deliver the best results.
4. The best presentations have some sort of “hook” that is used.Just like fishing, you try hook your audience and keep them hanging on your every word. It might be a metaphor running through your entire speech, that each point builds on the metaphor. You might come up with an acronym to help people remember the points, or use a number of words all starting with the same letter. I attended a speech in September 1985 that I can still remember the content of because all the key points were based around words starting with M. In your system, you might try to find ways of how best to create your hook, or have a book that you keep good ideas in. In the 1980s, Crunchie chocolates bars had television adverts that said “Crunchies go CRRR in your mouth!”, and they would put those letters across the screen. I thought that would make a brilliant hook, and kept the idea alive for 11 years before I finally found a suitable occasion to use it. I based my talk around words starting with C, and three Rs. I then handed out Crunchies in the presentation to some of the audience, as people could answer questions that I posed. People were still mentioning that speech to me years later, so I knew that it had worked. My system of keeping good ideas had not let me down.
5. Do you learn from your mistakes?If a presentation has not gone well, do you do a debrief and learn what could be improved on? Many years ago I did a presentation sitting down around a boardroom table. It never went well, and I decided to never do so again. Your system must include a way to learn how to improve.
So there are many areas of doing a presentation that you need to work on when preparing presentations. But if you learn from previous mistakes, and eradicate them and develop a system that consistently produces good results, you will find that preparing and delivering presentations becomes an ever easier task, and one that will allow you to actually enjoy delivering them.
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