Over the next couple of weeks I have three presentations to deliver. The first is to a public relations class at Boston University, from which I hope to recruit two interns for the fall. The second is to the hospital's marketing committee. The last is to a group of managers at Staples to kick-off their involvement with Halloween Town.
Three presentations to three very different audiences. But what won't be different is how I prepare for all of them.
- I can't emphasize it enough: knowing your audience is the key to a successful speech.
- I start by gathering some basic info about my audience: gender, age, level of education, etc. The stories and examples I'd use for say an all women audience would be different from the ones I'd use for a mixed audience.
- I dig deeper and explore their interest, knowledge and attitude toward me and my topic. A college student studying public relations will have a different view and knowledge of cause marketing than a manager from Staples.
- I find out how many people will be there, where and when I'll be speaking (please, anything except just before lunch!), will I need a microphone, etc..
- Armed with these details, I'm ready to make some speaking decisions for my presentation.
- Just like every good research paper you wrote in college, every speech needs a beginning, a middle and an ending.
- The purpose of the beginning is twofold: to get your listeners' attention and to let them know why you're there. (e.g. "By the end of my speech I want you to...").
- If the intro is about making your point, the middle of your speech is for proving it. If my goal is to recruit two new interns, what do I need to say in the body of my speech to show that the hospital will be a great place for them to work?
- After proving your point, use the ending to drive it home. Your goal is threefold: action, action, action.
- Adhere to the 50-50 rule. Spend 50 percent of your speech on new material and the other half repeating what you've already said. People forget quickly, you know.
- When I'm ready to work on my delivery, I focus on the speaking outline and practicing my speech.
- Don't write out your speech word for word. Instead, write down key words and phrases that will jog your memory and keep your speaking style engaging, spontaneous and conversational. Think Jay Leno, not George Bush.
- Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest speaker of them all? A mirror and a tape recorder are a speaker's best friends. They give candid feedback, they're discreet and will never bum money from you (the lampshade is a whole different story).
- Everyone has their own way of dealing with stage fright. Mine is to position myself at the front of the audience before I have to speak, preferably when someone else is speaking or introducing me, so I can scan the crowd for terrorists, potential hecklers and old girlfriends.
One final tip. Keep your speech short, powerful, and, yes, entertaining. Mark Twain said that "few sinners are saved after the first 20 minutes of a sermon." A century later, it's even less. Make every word count. If you're not making them think, you should be making them laugh. If you're doing neither, it's time to sit down.