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Public Speaking – Preparation Part 2

When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.

Henry J. Kaiser

Preparation part 2: Identifying Key Questions and Concerns

If you have a good understanding of your audience, you can probably predict the key questions and concerns they are likely to have. You may not be able to give the audience the answers they would like to hear, but at least you should be ready to discuss the things they care about most.

Many speeches these days are followed by a question and answer session which allows the audience to raise any issues they do not feel have been fully dealt with by the original speech. However, it is better for the audience if the original speech deals with those concerns, as it demonstrates that they have been thought through rather than addressed “on the hoof”.

Predicting questions and concerns should be straightforward. If you can address a larger group of people, then the chances are that you have knowledge of the issues that affect them and how these can be addressed. You can take a sounding from people “on the ground” as to what their concerns are. It may well be that you share those concerns and have given some thought to addressing them.

If you can speak intelligently and emotionally about the issues that concern your audience, they will have a lot more trust that you can help provide solutions to problems, and that their position is understood and respected.

Before delivering a speech or presentation, make a list of the five most searching questions you expect people to have. Your presentation should then concern itself with answering those questions as well as delivering your own standpoint.

When delivering the speech, pay tribute to the fact that these concerns exist, say something along the lines of: “And before I go any further, I would like to raise an issue that I know has been foremost among the minds of many here…”. As the audience is giving you their attention, it is simply reasonable that you make clear that they, too, have yours.

Preparation continued: Creating a Basic Outline

The main advantage of creating an outline is that it helps you to organise your thoughts. The audience gets more out of a presentation when it is well-organised. They also are more likely to think that the speaker knows the subject thoroughly and has given some thought on how to present it.

In this blog we will be considering a hypothetical presentation about a project that has just been completed, but the general approach we will consider is applicable to just about any type of presentation.

Often this approach is seen as being like creating a body. You start with the skeleton – the basic outline. This is the bare minimum of the speech, vaguely formed in the shape that it will eventually take. Then progress by adding meat to the bones and layering the rest on top of that.

At key points of the presentation, specific issues will need to be confronted. By allotting them a place in the basic outline you will ensure that these are prioritised and addressed appropriately.

I recommend using  the “mind maps” technique to create the outline of all your talks.

Outlining the Situation

Almost every project addresses a problem, an opportunity, or both. An effective way to introduce your speech is by outlining the situation that your project addresses. This approach forces you to get to the point right away.

When outlining the situation, avoid giving too much history or background. Most people won’t care about that sort of information. If you start out by discussing something people don’t care about, it will be hard to recapture their interest.

Provide only the background information people will need to understand the situation. Your audience in many cases may already know the background. Covering old ground will simply lead to a “here we go again” feeling in the room.

So instead of beginning with a history of the problem, the nature of the problem can be covered in a few sentences, followed with a statement of what resolution you as a group have decided on.

It is beneficial to refer to situations and occasions with which the audience is familiar. In doing this you will keep their attention by recognising that their opinions matter and have been considered.

The introduction of a presentation is where you will often take and hold an audience’s attention or lose it for good. It is wise to keep an introduction brief and informative and set the scene for the rest of the presentation.

In an introduction, there are just a few essential elements to keep in mind. First, you should introduce yourself in your capacity with regards to the project. Even if everyone there knows you, it helps to explain exactly why you are delivering the presentation. You should then give a brief overview of what the presentation seeks to address.

This will stop anyone in the audience from thinking “When are they going to get to the bit about x?”. Everyone can then concentrate fully on the presentation itself.

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