Public speaking is what you make it

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A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.”  Hunter S. Thompson

About 30 years ago, I was in a relatively small audience invited to a Hunter S. Thompson speech. There’s been nothing quite like it that I’ve seen or heard since. This was a college campus event during the early eighties.

Most memorable about the talk was the liquor bottle he freely drew from throughout the presentation, his chain smoking (something not frowned upon at the time, but an odd sight from a public speaker) and his reclined position as he spoke. Oddly, I don’t remember his words (sans that comments were often unexpected and incredibly frank), but that picture of him presenting is a vision I can still recall.

For the crowd he was presenting to (college students), he was a big hit. This was an interesting learning experience (his discussion of journalism as a career choice was eye-opening) through what he had to say and how he did it.

This was a man who made no attempt to hide who he was. He exposed his flaws and felt no compulsion toward pretention. He spoke of things that most journalists would never share in private conversation, let alone to a crowd. While I was shocked the college permitted the bottle on stage (the student body was of drinking age), I imagine this was a non-negotiable consideration.

Frankly, I didn’t even know who this guy was before seeing him live. You can bet, though, I set out to learn more about this character after the event and followed what he was doing for many years after that. I guess that’s what makes a presentation effective. When your audience walks away wanting to know more about you, you’ve done it right.

While many admit a fear of public speaking, it was clear Hunter S. Thompson didn’t have one. His style was unusual, but it worked for him

Do you need public speaking training?

There are a lot of ways you can get in front of an audience to reduce your fear of public speaking (Brian Tracy quips more people are more afraid of public speaking than death). The only mistake you can make is not trying.

There’s so much to gain from honing your presentation skills, it’s a shame not to give it a shot. You’ll feel great after a presentation well done. You’ll be able to reach people with your message more effectively than possible one-one-one or remotely. Done right, this can produce an additional revenue stream for your business (not to mention super opportunities for getting in front of prospects). Being introduced as the presenter lends huge credibility at meetings or events (of course, you need to prepare to underscore the honor).

There are tons of opportunities for experience and feedback to get better (I’ll cover this in another post), but the best training you can get is simply by doing.

Public speaking tips

If you’ve never presented in front of an audience, here are some quick tips:

  1. Consider your audience and spend some time researching who they are and what kind of message might get them excited – customize what you say to show you care.
  2. Write out your speech but don’t read it. After you’ve recited it a bunch of times, reduce it to an outline or some key phrases to keep you on track if you get lost.
  3. Engage the audience. If you’re quick on your feet and artful at keeping track of where you left off, you can invite questions during the presentation, or indicate early you’ll take them at the end. Personally, I don’t care much for scripted ‘exercises’ in a speech, but this works well for some.
  4. Tape the presentation. Body language can be effective as an enforcement tool, or distracting. See what the audience is experiencing and you’ll be able to improve for the next time in ways you never imagined.
  5. Forget Power Point. Visuals can be great (if I’m presenting on marketing, I might bring along some examples of thematically-linked, three-dimensional, multi-part mailing campaigns for illustrative purposes), but if you‘re merely reading off screen or boring your audience with slides of your speech words, you’ll lose them.
  6. Focus on people in the audience who are supportive. The ones nodding, smiling, making eye contact and showing they appreciate what you have to say are gems. Talk to them. Usually you can find enough friendly people spaced around the room to look at. You’ll present a lot better talking to engaged people one-on-one while the audience feels like you’re talking to all as you move across the room with your eyes.
  7. Have fun! If you’re enjoying the experience, your audience will too.

It’s up to you to choose the challenge that propels you to greater opportunities, or wait for someone else to dictate your fate. Why not reach? You might find public speaking to be a path that’s not only invigorating, but also profitable.

2 Responses to Public speaking is what you make it
  1. Alan Miles
    July 19, 2012 | 5:14 pm

    You’re right about the taping. I used to train English-language teachers, and it was the final day of the program before we sent them out into the big wide world.

    ‘So are there any last questions?’

    ‘Yes, you’ve never talked about this, but you spend the whole time pacing from one side of the room to the other while you’re talking. It gets me so dizzy that I lose track of what you’re saying. Is it part of the technique?’

    I had no idea.

    • Nanette Levin
      July 19, 2012 | 6:56 pm

      How funny – bet you didn’t do that again :-).

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