Thursday, January 31, 2013

Communication 103: Speaking to a Group

I studied public speaking in college. I learned that all but 5% of the population would rather die than give a public speech.

It's a fair fact that not everyone likes to speak in the public whether it is in front of 5 people or 5,000. I don't like performing sports; to dance across the stage for a ballet would be shaming; and to present a whiz-bang business plan for a Fortune 500 company would have me dripping sweat. For me, public speaking is a piece of cake and a thrill ride! So, perhaps we can help one another out. I need people who will help me with financial details so perhaps in turn I can share a little of what I've learned over the 20 years I've been speaking on the actual and proverbial stage.

Communication is something everyone does with or without words. But if you have been given a message that others need to hear, to not speak in public is a dis-service to yourself as well as those who need your information.

  • Start with an Outline: Have a message clearly outlined in bullet or outline form. The outline should include an Introduction which will address what your presentation is about and something that will win the interest and attention of the audience at the very beginning. The Body will be where your main substance is; identify the top two to three points you want to convey to your audience with a couple points each; the Conclusion is where you should restate your initial point and end on a thought for them to chew on, after your presentation is over.
  • Prepare by Studying Your Audience ahead of time (see examples in parenthesis): 
    • Learn about your audience ahead of your presentation. What is the age composition? (are you speaking to high school students or senior citizens.) 
    • How familiar are they with your subject? (If you are speaking on coal industry to a music class in downtown Chicago, it's most likely they are clueless on the subject; miners in mining country will understand it extensively so make sure you present information that is new to them which will also demonstrate your credibility.) 
    • What is the hoped for outcome or goal for the presentation? (Were  you asked to convince college students to visit a third world country, or convince them not to? Frame your speech to that end.) 
    • How long is their attention span and learning threshold? (Congrats on achieving your doctorate but grade school children are not going to know the use of your big, convoluted words. Try something a lot simpler in your presentation.)
  • Know Your Atmosphere: What is the atmosphere of where you are speaking? Is it a solemn moment then do not attempt to garner laughter. Are you asked to speak to 5 people in an auditorium with room for 10,000? Will it be outside in the bustle of the city with lots of distractions? Do your best to understand things ahead of time and then adjust your speaking "venue" or space to the desired goal. (If you have been asked to speak to a group outdoors, ask if you could speak in a private part of the public park. If you are asked to speak to a huge audience in a small space, ask if you can transition to the hallway and make things comfortable and relaxed yet with room to breathe.)
  • Use stories and personal experiences. Stories have this uncanny ability to capture people's attention, convey a point in an engaging way and allow your audience to visit a personal and vulnerable side of you. Choose your stories carefully. If you are missing stories from your own history, then find one from someone else that applies to your point. Adjust the story so that it is engaging, not too detailed which causes it to drag out too long, and always make sure it is presented with integrity, honestly reflecting the actual story. Personal stories define truth. And to mis-use that story can cause great distrust and lack of credibility once the audience discovers the narrative was skewed to accomplish a certain point. Be wise and careful yet have fun with it as well! These can be the best parts of a speech. 
Goodness! Way too many words for this post. I'll leave you with the above points and come back for more tips later. 

Don't be afraid of public speaking anymore. But instead, embrace it! 

You can email me with questions at