I’ve been working on public speaking skills with some really diverse, amazing local professionals lately and have found that our time seems to focus on two – rather broad – areas: delivery and presentation structure.
Just a few thoughts on structure (I’ll dive into delivery in my next post!):
- It may sound elementary, but having a clear intro, body and conclusion is fundamental to message clarity. Even something as short/simple as an “elevator pitch” (are these trite nowadays?) can benefit from this sort of organization. If you haven’t realized, people aren’t always great audible learners; like children, they don’t know it but they crave structure.
- Having a purpose is key. I’m not trying to get all existential here, I’m simply reminding you how crucial it is to tell people what the heck they’re about to hear! This is one of the most overlooked components of a speech I encounter. When I teach Public Speaking I will often ask the audience to identify the purpose upon completion of a speech. You can’t believe how often they get it wrong! Having a purpose statement in the beginning of your presentation allows everyone to be on the same page and allows the audience to know what to listen for.
- For any presentation over a few minutes, use the following musical analogy (for you artsy folks). Think of your favorite musical, perhaps Lion King or Phantom of the Opera. What do you always hear in the beginning? The overture, which consists of snippets of songs that you’ll hear throughout the show. Why do we like this? Because we’re able to recognize those songs once we hear them again a half hour later. It gives us a warm sense of familiarization and that appeals to both the cognitive (thinking) and emotional parts of our brain. Doing the same in the introduction of your speech (we call this a preview) will produce the same effect. Tell the audience the main things they’re about to hear. Of course, this leads to my last point (for now) on structure. (By the way, this last sentence is a great example of using a connective to smoothly transition between main points, another essential structual element in public speaking.
- Have 2-4 distinct main points in the body of your speech and stick to them. One main point and your presentation is too short and lacks substance. More than four (and even four is playing with fire in my opinion) and you risk losing cognitive attention. Additionally, main points should be clearly independent of one another and you should be able to spend a relatively equal amount of time on each. If you find you’re lacking in either of these two areas, chances are you can combine or parse out the point(s).
I’ll continue to post more public speaking thoughts here (assuming you find them relevant and helpful), as well as other work beneficial/relevant to professional development, so check back!