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Unaccustomed as I am…


Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been flying to and from Scotland, increasing the size of my carbon footprint so I could talk to people about communicating the importance of sustainable lifestyles.  It’s been an interesting project and they’ve all been really great groups to work with.  Plus, there’s been the added bonus of hanging around university campuses, where the energy and enthusiasm of the students has just been infectious.

A couple of key bits of feedback kept coming up as I was watching the presentations delegates were making and so I thought I’d share them with you.  Bear these points in mind, next time you have to talk to a group of people:


Know what you’re trying to achieve

Surprising, but often the speakers didn’t really know why they were talking to the group – they hadn’t worked out, in their minds, what the purpose of their presentation was.  Getting this clear in your mind guides everything else in the presentation.  Think carefully about what you want your audience to do, know and feel at the end of your talk and then gear your talk to these objectives.

Use signposting and headings

Talking to a group is like giving someone a huge block of text to read, with no paragraphs, no spacing and no headings.  Pretty soon, readers get bored and switch off – the same is true of your audience if you don’t structure your talk.  The old cliché with speakers is to use the three Ts – first, tell your audience what you’re going to tell them; secondly, tell them what you want to tell them; thirdly, tell them what you just told them.  Audiences drift in and out and if you say something only once, there’s no guarantee that people will hear it.  If it’s a particularly important point and you want the group to remember it, don’t be afraid to signpost it for your listeners and tell them that it’s an important point.

Know your “in” and your “out”

To be fair to them, most of the speakers I saw knew their “in” – that is, they knew how they were going to start their presentation.  If you can find a way of doing this that’s funny, attention grabbing and memorable, so much the better.  However, very few speakers knew their “out” – that is, what to do at the other end of the talk.  So instead of ending, the talk/presentation just “fizzled out” and left the audience with a negative impression.  As part of your planning, know what your concluding point is and end your talk with something other than “and, er, that’s it...”

If you Google “top ten fears” you’ll find that public speaking features in most, if not all, of the lists.  There’s no question that most people find speaking to groups to be a very painful experience; with a few simple techniques, it doesn’t have to be a painful experience for your group, too.

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