Friday, June 18, 2010

If you're ever invited to speak....

I do quite a lot of public speaking these days. I normally enjoy it. My audiences vary a bit but are normally public or social sector.

I am probably living proof that the training they send you on works. Before trooping off two years ago to a leafy media centre in the countryside I was your usual teeth-chattering nervebag who would read out something I'd taken about four days to write. The audience would snore away, I would creep off, un-noticed.

These days, there's no notes, a few slides with photos on (I have a collection of 50 slides which I use interchangablely) and an acceptance that it's better to go with the flow and see where that takes you. Because every audience is different. What animates one will bore another.

However, all audiences want to see the real you so whatever you say that day must feel authentic to you, and connect with them. I realise that this is also how stand-up comedy must work. There's an element of just going where your energy and the occasion takes you.

Step one therefore is to achieve a connection, an unbroken line of communication that lasts till you go off. First lines matter here. Either a gracious `thank-you for inviting me here to Scunthorpe' or a good joke (but never a mediocre or poor one).

Step two is to watch carefully how people are responding. Do they look bored - if they do, change gear, forget the plan. One person will always be sleeping. Ignore this if others look ok. The odd person will also suddenly get up and leave. Again don't worry - they are normally taking a call or a pee. The overall mood is what matters.

Step three is to tell stories. Don't make points, tell stories. People really love stories and learn better through them. The stories have to be things you have personally done or been involved in. Don't tell other people's stories - they have limited impact.

Step four is to make sure you have a Big Message. People feel entitled to take something away from their 30 minutes investment. Give this to them. Repeat it up to five times during the talk. The message must be simple `There may be doom and gloom but there are also opportunities' or `You are responsible for what happens to your business'. It need not be profound but it must be clear and recountable.

Finally I would suggest that you only speak about things that interest you. I was asked recently to speak on a subject that,frankly, bored me. I salvaged it by turning into my own show, but the stuff I did about the subject itself never came to life. Because I didn't believe it and it probably showed. At the end of the day, you've got to care about what you're talking about. If you don't give a shit, don't do it, is my advice.

But if you get a chance to speak in public, definitely do it. It's an experience and to be able to do it well gives you a fairly unusual skill. Plus it is good fun, mostly.

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