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Let Me Tell You
Prepping for public speaking
When people rise in their leadership roles, they often find that they are expected to speak to groups.
A few people have no problem with this—they are “naturals.” But for those of us who are “unnatural,” this can be a significant challenge or stressor.
But there are ways to make this easier and more effective:
Prepare: When I first started teaching college courses, I would write out every single word of my lecture in a Word doc. I’d then make sure that the main concepts were in all-caps, so I could find them on the page when I printed it out. This preparation process was NOT so I could then just read the document word-for-word to the class. It familiarized me with what I was going to say and how I wanted to say it so that I didn’t NEED to read it word-for -word, and it gave me the confidence of knowing that, if I lost my train of thought, I could just look down at the lectern and smoothly pick up where I’d left off.
Practice: Do a dry run of your presentation out loud with your phone in “stopwatch” mode, so you are familiar with speaking the material and you can check your timing for each section. It really does need to be out loud—most of us read silently at a different speed than we talk, and many silent readers who are familiar with the material have a tendency to “skim.” Include the timing on each page or for each section, so you can stay on-pace or adjust as you go—speeding up or expanding on the later topics, if needed.
Polish: When I want to be able to give a presentation “off-notes,” I prepare it as usual and then record an audio file of me reading from the notes, using all of the pacing, emphasis, and positive energy/enthusiasm of a live performance. I then listen to myself (I know—cringe) on headphones a few times while driving or on the train. You ever get a song stuck in your head? That’s what we’re going for here.
Project: Don’t talk to groups like you are giving a high-school book report on As I Lay Dying. Talk about topics you LOVE. Talk about WHAT you love about your topic. Consider what your AUDIENCE might love about your topic. Have a VISION for what you want them to feel, or what you want them to agree to, or what you want them to do. Connect with the people in the audience with eye contact, with positive energy, and with a subtext of “this thing I’m telling you about is SO COOL!” or “When we finish, this thing is going to be GREAT!”