Public speaking 101 – Are you still delivering a speech the way you were taught at school?

During the Easter holidays my sons organised popcorn movie night with their friends to watch the movie Minions (91 minutes of my life I won’t get back) the trailer is great, the movie? Meh;.

Partway through the movie the Minions, having served the abominable snowman for many years, are depressed, restless and are in need of a new master to serve. Kevin recognises this and boldly steps up on stage to address his fellow minions.

He starts to present the way we were taught at school. He walks nervously up on stage, greets the audience, “Bello” and pulls out his cue cards frantically shuffling them to try and find where he’s supposed to start.

Nothing screams “High school debating class.” like cue cards. But people ask me all the time “What am I supposed to do?” “How will I know what to say?” “What if I forget!?”

It’s okay to use notes – they are great for keeping us on task and on time when public speaking.  We just need to know how to use them effectively.  When preparing a speech, we have four choices:

1. Read your speech

When we write a speech we tend to fall into report mode. The language and the tone becomes more formal and doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily.  On top of this, we lose all the things that make a presentation engaging: eye-contact, gestures and vocal variety.

2. Memorise your speech

We’ve all seen someone who as delivered a memorised speech. They stand as if super-glued to the spot, beads of sweat break out on their brow as they desperately try not to lose their way, they stare over your head, fearful that if they look anyone in the eye their brain will turn to mush.  Memorising a speech to the point where you can deliver a natural sounding presentation is possible – but do you really have the time for that?

3. Wing it!

Those of us that love to stand up and speak often fall into this trap. We know the topic, we know the audience, why do we need to prepare?  The challenge here is that we can talk too much, go off on wild tangents and before you know it 30 minutes have passed and we have not even touched on the first main point we wanted to talk about! Even if you know the topic well, a few notes with an introduction, some headings for the main body of the presentation and some thoughts about how you would like to conclude will be enough to keep you on task and on time.

4. Have a prepared Plan

Hmmm… a prepared plan I hear you ask, what’s that?  A prepared plan provides you with the structure to stay on task and on time. Your presentation is not written out word-for- word, so you can deliver it in a conversational tone.  So notes are OK you just need to know how to use them. Here are tips for using notes in your next presentation:

  • Write your notes in large font. This makes it easy to see where you’re at from a distance.
  • Double space them
  • Print them on an A4 sheet of paper
  • Put them down

Using a prepared plan does take a little practice to master if you’ve never done it before, but wow, what a difference it will make to your presentation and it will take you to the next level in public speaking.

Sharon Ferrier
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