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Public speaking fundamentals

A LOT of you out there will concur with me that public speaking is not a walk in the park. Some research has shown that many people fear public speaking more than snakes and lions. Well, I do not want to make a lot of you sweat.

People Management Issues: Robert Mandeya

However, at some point in your life, it is likely that you are going to be asked to deliver a speech, or a presentation. Too many courses begin by focusing on the fear of public speaking; however, I would rather focus on how terrific you are going to be, when you develop more confidence by using powerful techniques. If you are a savvy presenter, you can use the insights from this installment as a helpful reminder.

And if you are a novice speaker, you will find techniques that can help you polish any presentation. I will discuss how to prepare, both technically and emotionally. I will attempt to explore how to warm up, and open your presentation. If it were possible here I would have also shown you some delivery techniques, including how to use visual aids, and props. There is just a lot to learn about public speaking including how to handle questions and answers, and delivering a strong closing to your presentation. Anyway, join me to discover how to develop the confidence and techniques you need to become an effective public speaker.

Speech-audience mapping

Pretend you are telling one of your best friends about a first date. Now imagine that you are telling one of your parents about the same date. Chances are you are probably going to alter your story somewhat. You are going to change your tone, your word choices, and you are probably even going to edit certain details.

Thinking in terms of your audience is a critical step as you prepare for crafting a speech or presentation. Before you write one single word, spend some time developing an audience persona. An audience persona is an individual representation of your entire audience. Instead of thinking of a large faceless group, think of one single person that you will be talking to.

Developing a persona can help you keep a consistent tone, and putting a face on one person instead of thinking of a large faceless group can help you develop a more personal connection to your audience. To develop a persona, take steps to understand your audience as thoroughly as you can. This involves getting answers to key audience identification questions.

For example, each time I am called to train a group of people, one of the first question I ask is “Tell me everything you can about the audience. Who are they?” While this is a really broad, open-ended question, it often quickly reveals the most obvious insights. At one point an event coordinator asked me to give a presentation on social media at an annual conference. In this case the event coordinator told me that most of the audience either owned restaurants or were top management in the food service industry.

And most use Facebook to promote their businesses but wanted to learn how to use it better. So within a few seconds of asking this very broad question, I had a much better idea of what my audience all had in common. To flesh out richer character — developing details, I often ask other questions like what do they do for fun? or what TV shows might they watch? For example, I once learned an offbeat detail, most of my audience listened to conservative talk radio programmes in their offices when they had the time.
Now, this detail had nothing to do with the topic of my speech, but it played a significant role in deciding which anecdotes might help me better connect with a largely conservative audience. When developing a persona you are looking for both broad commonalties as well as rich personal details. These details can help you imagine a unique and interesting character to talk to. Imagining one person makes writing and delivering your speech easier, and it also helps you emotionally connect with your audience.

Take some time to develop an audience persona. Look for broad commonalities as well as some character-defining details that can help you visualise one single person to talk to.

Understanding the venue

Once you have identified the audience, the next thing you need to understand is the venue. What kind of room you will be presenting in? Whenever possible, make sure you take a brief walk through to familiarise yourself with your presentation space. However, in many cases that is just not possible or practical. That is why I am a huge fan of using a room checklist before every presentation, even a presentation closer to home. A simple checklist can be very grounding. It also makes me less likely to forget tiny things that make a big difference, like batteries and back-up devices.

You will note that a checklist includes three key sections: room dynamics, audience dynamics, and speaker equipment. Under room dynamics, you will see five broad questions to ask a person who knows the room. Generally, you will want to know the size and shape of the room, how many seats, if there is a raised stage, or if there is anything unusual you might want to know about the room.

By unusual I mean anything that you might have to work around, like a pole or a support beam in the middle of the room.

It is also important to understand audience dynamics. Will they be sitting theatre-style, chairs only arranged in rows, or will they be seated classroom-style, or will you be presenting boardroom-style all gathered around on table?

Also, find out if your audience will be sitting in the dark or in the light. And will they be eating and drinking during your presentation? All of these audience dynamics matter when you are crafting a speech or presentation.

A large audience sitting theatre-style in a darkened room is probably going to be less conversational and interactive than a small audience sitting at tables in a well-lit room. Finally, use the checklist to ask about any equipment you might need. For most out-of-town business presentations, an event or meeting coordinator (if you are working with one) is happy to tell you exactly what is available to you and what you will need to bring yourself.

Mandeya is a an executive coach in human capital development and corporate education, a certified life coach in leadership and professional development at the Institute of Leadership Research and Development. You can contact him on lead.inst.dev@gmail.com, mandeyarobert@gmail.com.

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