CHAMPION STRATEGIES PUBLIC SPEAKING WORKSHOP – OCTOBER 16, 2021
How to speak in public
Think about the audience
Without any training, ‘speech preparation’ for many of us too often begins with a swoon of anxious, self-flagellating, self-centered predictions: I hate public speaking. This is going to be a nightmare. Everyone’s going to know I’m an idiot. Modern approaches to public speaking typically begin by addressing these anxieties (Imagine your audience naked! Adopt a series of power poses to produce confidence chemicals! Take a beta-blocker!)
If this is you, your next step is probably to think about your material. You have a data-set of information (figures for the Q4 sales meeting; bachelor high jinks for the upcoming wedding speech, and so on) and you grapple with how to arrange it.
The Greeks, in contrast, didn’t start with beating anxiety or with organising the speech material. They insisted that ‘the public’ is the most important part of public speaking. As Aristotle argued in c335 BCE in his Art of Rhetoric (the world’s most authoritative treatise on public speaking), the audience is the beginning and the end of public speaking.
What might at first seem like a rather obvious, if overly broad suggestion is, in fact, a simple, easy start toward comfortable public speaking. When you have a speaking engagement ahead, start your preparation by getting a pen and paper (or open a file) and list the most literal, concrete things you know about those you’ll be talking to. It might help to answer the following questions:
- Who will be listening?
- How many people will there be?
- How old are they?
- What race and gender are they?
- What do they know about you and your topic?
- Why are they gathering to listen to you?
This initial step takes minutes and demands nothing profound. If possible, ask the person who invited you to speak why they did so. What’s your audience expecting? Are they coming for a special occasion? The more you train your thoughts towards the needs and reality of your audience and away from the chaos of your anxieties, the more you’ll know how to connect with them.
You’d never invite people to a piano recital, then fail to rehearse for it. Leading a Zoom meeting or presentation of any kind without some practice is equally ill-advised.
Speech teachers throughout history have been divided about whether it’s better to write out every word of a speech, then memorize it, or to make a simple outline consisting of broad strokes. I think you should go with whatever suits you and, either way, once your speech is drafted.