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Public speaking 101

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BY TIM MEAD
Public speaking is a crucial skill for any type of outdoor communicator. Often we get requests from bass clubs, environmental groups, Trout Unlimited chapters or other folks in need of a
program.
Here are a half-dozen rules for making the best of an invitation to speak in public.
NEVER SPEAK IMPROMPTU
Wait a minute, you say, most of the time I get asked to speak (or want to do so during a meeting), it’s at the last minute. Well, then you have to speak impromptu then.
More than 50 years ago, I was entered in a collegiate impromptu speaking contest. One of the debate coaches told me not to speak impromptu. And he gave me a list of organizing principles to avoid doing so. Organize chronologically – what happened first, next, and down the line. Or go from the most important factor, to the second most, to the least important. Whatever organizational principle you can come up with, take it. Once on that principle, don’t switch to another. Doing so makes the principle you have chosen seem not so important.
DON’T TRY TO BE FUNNY UNLESS YOU REALLY ARE
A string of jokes will rarely make the point you should be making. Jeff Foxworthy is funny. Most of us aren’t.
DON’T TRY TO DAZZLE ‘EM WITH FOOTWORK
We see this often with PowerPoint presentations. Though you may have learned all the PowerPoint tricks, you don’t need all of them at once. Be internally consistent. If the first slide moves onto the screen from the left, then all should come in from the left. The idea is to get key points across to the audience, not to amaze them with cleverness.
PREPARE CAREFULLY
Organize your thoughts before you get up to speak. Anticipate counter-arguments and address them before they can be made. If speaking about the joys of fishing to a non-fishing group, include your answers to possible objections in your remarks. Then in the closing question-and-answer period, you can respond, “As I said …”
BUILD AUDIENCE INVOLVEMENT
Professor Henigan, in a course about advanced forms of public address, taught me a trick. To a class of about a dozen undergraduates, he said that we should build involvement through participation. When one of the students said it was hard, Henigan said, “Move into the center so you can see better and I’ll show you how.” Students at the edges of the classroom moved; only as they stood did they realize they had been had.
Often I start a speech with a question, “How many here ever…” It’s a question I know many can answer with a “yes.”
RESPOND TO YOUR AUDIENCE
Make them participants. Recently, Sarah Palin spoke at an event in California. Someone in the audience yelled. Looking at the person who yelled, she responded, “I’ll write that on the palm of my hand,” referring not only to the suggestion but to earlier commentary about how she wrote ideas on her hand, lest she forget them. Eye contact is a great way to respond to your audience. You can’t be responsive if you cannot see them.
DON’T PLAY WITH YOUR NOTES
Shuffling papers is a certain way for speakers to lose an audience. Before you get up to speak, make sure any notes you have are in order. A decade ago, when I turned over the gavel as president of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association, I spent several weeks writing out my remarks. That was an important opportunity for me to tell my peers what I thought and I didn’t want to mess it up. I spread my notes out on the lectern where no one could see them, all in order. When I finished, a couple folks asked me how long it had taken to memorize what I said.
LOOK LIKE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT
A key way to do that is by dressing appropriately. That’s why the tournament bass anglers wear the patch-covered shirts; the patches attest to their credentials. Each person who has done much speaking remembers moments when the next idea, the next word, simply would not come – their mind a complete blank. Never let ‘em know. Henigan used to tell us that this is the time to look profound. Rather than appear as though you did not have a clue, adopt a facial expression and a posture that suggests, “This next point or word is important; I want to make absolutely certain it is the right one.” And go on from there.
Follow these tips and you’ll be able to put your fear of public speaking at ease.♦
–Tim Mead is from Charlotte, N.C. A member since 1987, he is a freelance journalist. Contact him at tdmead@aol.com.
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