In my last two posts on Story Starters, the focus was on identifying personally meaningful stories that could “speak” to particular audiences - stories that have emotional impact, highlight relevant issues, inform, entertain, inspire change. I called that Step 1 in preparing for public speaking.
Now, you might already be thinking of a specific audience you’d like to address but feel unsure of what to say and how to say it. Ask yourself – Why might I pick this audience? What might I want them to hear, learn, or do differently as a result? Why might I be the right individual to present this? What could be my talking points? Do I have any stories that could illustrate each or all of them?
On the other hand, you might not have a clue as to who your audience would be. So, ask yourself – what do I love to talk about? What am I good at? What is my specialty? What aha’s have I experienced that caused me to change course? Be a student and coach, sharing what you’ve learned and are learning with others in order to help them rise to the next level. Focus on them, not you.
Let’s now proceed to Step 2: Walk Your Talk. It’s a method I devised to help you fully develop interesting and well-organized content, smooth delivery skills, and confidence. It helps you prepare yourself for confronting and holding the attention of an audience – for being in the spotlight.
Note that a speech is different from an article. An article is meant to be read, not heard. The words don’t change. Yet, there are people who think speeches and articles are essentially the same. They labor over writing a perfect speech, then get up in front of an audience and read it to them – off a screen or page on a lectern.
In an article, the written word is the focus. In your presentation, you are the focus. Your ability to interest, inform and entertain is key – it’s an activity, a performance. The cadence in speaking to an audience is quite different from the cadence of reading the written word. The spoken words will change somewhat, but not the talking points.
There was a time when I’d write out a speech and then deliver it word for word – I’d worked so hard to perfect it and couldn’t bear to leave anything out. Also, I was scared to death to look at the audience! So, I was safe hiding behind my page, and the audience was pretty much ignored and bored.
Then I found a way to deliver speeches that I had never written down! Nothing to put distance between me and my audience. Yet I stayed on point. I could make eye contact, move around purposefully, sound conversational, pause for effect. I didn’t sound like an article or reference book. I could share a few points and stories and my enthusiasm – and enjoy watching their reactions to new ideas.
Preparation, practice, and rehearsal are essential. Yet, practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent. So, the method is the key. This is a way to transform nerves into excitement and avoid being tied to a script. It takes some time, consistency, patience – more in the beginning. But the payoff can be huge! If you think you could benefit from becoming more spontaneous and more socially skillful, this approach could change your life:
First, identify a story, event, point, or even a vague idea you’d like to explore. This will be a rough draft – vocally. Find a comfortable space where you can walk around freely - your house, a particular room, an empty chair. A place where you can be alone and speak out loud without being overheard. Imagine one or more people sitting in front of you. Or put stuffed animals on chairs! Speak to them about your idea. Know that you can ramble and not make sense. Hands free. No notes or devices available. Go for it. Try to formulate what you want them to get – don’t know? Then keep talking until it becomes more obvious to you. Set aside time (if only 5 minutes) each day for this practice – if you’re on a roll and want to go longer, that’s great. It might be a chore and confusing at first, but it’ll become easier and clearer over time. For now, this is your work in progress. You’re getting used to thinking on your feet, moving and gesturing in a space in front of “people,” hearing your own voice and varying your vocals.
So, as soon as possible, begin this practice. And don’t worry about writing things down, timing yourself, recording yourself, or appearing before a live audience. There’s a time and place for all that – but not yet. I’ll tell you more about that in my next post. Stay tuned!