One of the most common reason people want to know more about public speaking is to “organise their thoughts”. When we do a quick survey of why people attend our workshops, this comes right after “becoming more confident”
It is, of course, a result of misunderstanding the nature of ‘public speaking’, and of trying to communicate in our natural conversational style. The word they need to focus on is already in their answer – it’s “organise”; and to “organise” means to sort it out and arrange it in order. So the question must be asked “in order to do what?”
It is surprising how many people fail to realise that ‘in order’ to get their thoughts together in logical sequence they need to know precisely where it is that they are going. In other words, what do they want the presentation to achieve? For there must be a reason for someone to stand up and speak in public. Whatever that reason; whether it be a sales pitch, information presentation or even an after dinner speech – there should be an aim in view which becomes the reason for the speech.
You can only organise your thoughts if you understand what this is. So if you are asked to deliver a speech on – oh let’s say “The importance of public transport” – you need to consider what the aim is. Is it to inform people of what is available in your location; or perhaps it is to encourage them to leave the car behind and use it; or even sign a petition to improve it. You see, there can be many reasons to deliver this speech, but the end result required will impact of what you choose to say and how you choose to say it.
Because once you have decided what the aim of the speech is, it is like deciding the final destination in a journey. If you have to undertake a train journey, you will need to know where you are going before you can decide on which train to take. And the journey you have set out on will have some predetermined stops on the way which are necessary to ensure that you are travelling in the right direction.
Likewise your speech. If you have now decided where you are heading you need to determine what are your most important stops on the way. I always work in blocks of ten minutes – so I need to research and decide what are the three most important pieces of information that my audience need to know and understand, that will lead to my aim. (Three main ideas per ten minutes is all that a normal person can comfortably take in.)
This is not always easy, sometime I have lots of information and I really would like to include that special quote, or these amazing statistics. But the question at the back of my mind is always “Just how important is this to achieving my aim”. If the answer is “not very” then I put them aside – reluctantly! But being focused on what I need to achieve and the time frame I have to do it in, it is essential.
When I am left with the three most important points, I then arrange them in logical order to lead my audience to the purpose of the speech, and to help them understand my reasons and to (hopefully) arrive at the destination in full agreement! I have “organised my thoughts” and by doing so I have kept my speech on track to achieve the aim.
Like my railway journey I have arrived at the destination I had planned for. It is only by really knowing where you are heading that you can organise your ideas in a coherent presentation that will achieve exactly what you intended. And that takes careful preparation and practice.
I mentioned earlier that I work in ten minutes blocks, but what, I hear you ask, happens if my presentation is supposed to last for forty minutes? That’s a very long Q&A session!!
Well the answer is very simple, I create four ten minute blocks, each self sufficient but all leading to the ultimate destination. The topic for each of those blocks will be essential to the understanding of the wider issue, and logically leading to the aim.
The reasons for this are equally valid on the speaker’s circuit as they are in the training room. It is the attention span of the audience. By breaking a very much larger presentation into shorter ones you have much more control on the audience’s comfort. Because each ‘block’ has its opening, body and conclusion you are spoon feeding the listeners and not overwhelming them with information which will lead them to switch off and contemplate what is on TV that night!
It also means that if you really need your audience to emotionally connect with the subject you are able to monitor their reaction, and sometimes we need to go back and reiterate some part to ensure our listeners really understand the problem, for instance. You can get yourself in an awful tangle if you have prepared a straight forty minute presentation, and then try and do that.
If you have to give a presentation in the next week or so, make sure that you are absolutely clear on what it is required to achieve, and then design your journey to reach that destination.
If you remember that you will never find yourself on a metaphorical train heading in the wrong direction.