Preparing for speaking in public

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So you have been asked to speak at a wedding, a meeting at work or school, in your Church or a family gathering. What do you do now? I want to give you some tips on preparing for speaking in public. It isn’t complicated and it isn’t scary. Just follow my tips below and you will find your confidence grow in no time.

A little bit about my background in public speaking

I have been speaking in public since around 1987. The first time I spoke I didn’t follow any of the advice I am going to give you in this blog. I was in a meeting in small Church in Ross-on-Wye, a small market town in Herefordshire. The minister put a question was put to our small group “Does anyone have anything that they want to share with us in the meeting” I didn’t immediately stand up and say yes me but i had a strong feeling inside that I had to do it. I had no notes, no idea of what i was going to say i just opened my mouth and let everything come spilling out. I must have spoken for all of two minutes, if that, but that was the start of my journey into public speaking.

Preparing your message

Benjamin Franklin was credited as saying “If you fail to plan then you plan to fail” If you are planning to speak in public, whether it is a presentation at work, giving a speech at a wedding or any other kind of public speaking you cannot do it without some kind of preparation. Only very experienced people can ‘wing it’ and you will find that people who try to wing are using material from some other public speaking that they have done before

I never speak in public without some kind of preparation behind me. When I have spoken at a meeting or a funeral. When I have delivered training in a one to one situation or to a group of people I have had either notes in front of me, slides as an aid memoir or even a lesson plan in front of me. If it is something I am delivering on a regular basis then my reliance on notes and lesson plan becomes less as I am then familiar with my material.

How to Prepare your message

You may be wondering how am i going to prepare my message! Anyone who speaks in public on a regular basis has their own way of preparing their material. For someone who is new to public speaking or someone who has never done it before I would suggest that you make full notes on what you want to say.

My early days of public speaking

In my early days of public speaking I would spend a long time on writing out full almost word for word on what I wanted to say. When I first started speaking in public I would write out my notes by hand but then in the 1980’s Amstrad brought out the 256 kb word processor which I upgraded to 512 kb and save my work on a floppy disc.

Often my first draft of notes would be at least around two thousand words. If my notes were around that number then I knew my speech would last around 20 minutes. At that time notes were my comfort blanket.

Make my notes stand out

When I first started public speaking I had a little trick to make me feel secure in my notes, I would make my notes stand out to me. In my notes I used to colour coding to identify different information I wanted to communicate. The titles for each section would be in blue, information in black and quotes in red. Not everyone has to do that but in the beginning that helped me. Has I became more experienced in public speaking I would make full notes but when I used to speak I would only take a summarised version of my notes with me.

Depending on the subject you are speaking about the make sure you do your research. If you are speaking at a wedding make sure you speak to people who know the bride or groom well. Make notes on stories you are told. Ask questions like, were they good at school? Who was there best friend? What was they funniest thing they ever did as a child or teenager. I am just trying to give examples but that isn’t and exhaustive list.

If you speaking at a meeting then google some quotes on the subject just to grab people’s attention before moving into the main topic. If it is technical then get to understand the subject. I was a software trainer and as I prepared my lesson or talk I would work through the talk on the system. It may help with your meeting if you take screenshots to display throughout your talk.

If your chat is more inspirational then don’t be afraid to use examples from your own life or from lives of people you know. You don’t have to say who you are talking about but a good story really helps to bring you presentation alive. Maybe you want to talk about a life changing experience with other people within the group, write down notes about how you were before the experience. What was it that triggered the experience? Who was involved? What decision did you make? What difference has that decision made to you now? Where do you hope it will take you?

If at the end of your talk or presentation you want to bring people to a decision then offer them a challenge, for example you could say “if I can do why can’t you?”

Practice your message

There is no harm in practicing your message and how you want to communicate your message to your audience. One thing that often strikes fear into people is the sound of their own voice. Have you ever recorded your own voice on tape and on listening to it back you think “That sound nothing like me!” the voice we hear in our heads is completely different to what other people hear.

Once you have completed your preparation then I would suggest that you read through your notes a number of times to familiarise yourself with the flow. Every sentence we speak as a rhythm, we may not be aware of it but we do. Next time you are in an office, a pub or with family listen to the conversation and notice the rhythm of the conversation, the way people speak. The ups and downs of their voices.

Once you have familiarised yourself with your notes now it is time to speak them out loud to yourself. I find it easier to speak to myself before I ask some else to listen to me. You can find somewhere quiet, a bedroom, office or even sit in your car somewhere in the countryside and read your notes out loud. Not just once but many times over until you begin to feel it become natural. When I began public speaking I would either go to the venue where I was speaking and speak to an empty hall or go into my bedroom/home office and talk to the walls. It is ok there is no one there to judge you.

Using a projector to help deliver your message

If you are going to use slides during your presentation on a screen here is one big tip for you! Do not read the words off the screen.
By all means summarise what is written on the screen but if you can read it off a display so can your audience which makes you a little redundant. Make notes about what you are showing in the presentation and give the information to your audience but using different words.

Presenting your message to an audience

In this section I want to offer a few tips on presenting your message to an audience, whoever they may.

Where to look while speaking

Depending on the number of people you are speaking to will determine how you will deliver your message. If you have a large audience in a medium to large room I would suggest you when speaking that you look at the back wall of the room and aim to project your voice to the wall. I am not talking about shouting but having a loud enough voice so that it hits the wall as you speak. By doing that you will guarantee that the people will be able to hear your voice.

Look around the room

Don’t be afraid to look at people, when speaking I generally look around the room. You will find that there will be people there that will be smiling, nodding or just concentrating on your message. Why do I do this? Because it gives me a measure of how my message is going down, also it is good to get nonverbal positive feedback. If someone in the audience is frowning or not taking any interest then don’t focus on them. Maybe your message isn’t meant for them anyway.

Winston Churchill Quote

Don’t be afraid

Everyone of us make mistakes sometimes and that is OK. it was Einstein who said “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new. Don’t be afraid to move away from your notes if you feel inspired. Your notes are there as a guide not a prison. I have tried moving away from my notes in the past and I have had a mix results where I have been inspired to say something I had never thought of before and that had a greater impact than anything in my notes and other times it was a mistake but not a disaster, the great thing is that the audience doesn’t know one way of the other, so don’t be afraid of taking a risk.

Use resources freely available

If you get stuck when preparing you message i would suggest that you sue resources that are freely available on the internet. Google some sites where you will find some quotes that will illuminate your message. It doesn’t matter if it is serious or funny as long as it helps you to make you point. One quote from Martin Luther, he 16th century reformer of the church, have always remembered is “stand up, speak up, shut up”. It is ok to use a quote but it is only polite to give reference to who you are quoting. Once site you could visit is Greatest-Quotations.com which has subjects in alphabetical order. There are many sites out there like that

Use PowerPoint or flipcharts to illustrate your point. Use a piece of music or lyrics from a song to launch you into your message. be experimental, creative and don’t be afraid to try something different.

Your experience

Maybe you have an interest in this blog because you a teacher, preacher or you speak at public meetings already and you want to learn more or maybe there are things that you can add to help others as they begin their journey into public speaking. I would be interested and other will be too in your experience. So leave a comment or share you thoughts and experience below. You may just be able to help someone else.

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