Public speaking and debates
Public speaking often seems terrifying, but it can be an amazing experience if you’re well prepared and practiced!
- Work out your 3 or 4 key points
- Give the talk a clear structure
- Stand or sit - whatever makes you feel comfortable
Planning your talk
- Check who your audience is going to be - this affects the tone of your talk.
- Think about what you want to achieve from the presentation - what change in the audience do you want to see? Pick 3 or 4 key points that will help you achieve your end. Don’t give in to temptation and stuff your talk full of information - the audience won’t remember it all. Stick with a few choice areas and present them well.
- Make the important points in several different ways - anecdotes, facts, images, videos, etc.
- A few facts help give your talk credibility. Make sure they’re accurate and don´t use too many. However difficult, choose the most relevant to the issue and to your audience.
- Involve the audience in the talk. Ask them questions, run a quiz, play a game, get them to take an action together, anything. The more like a workshop and less like a talk it is, the more people will engage with it. Plus it will be a pleasant surprise if they’re expecting a lecture!
How to structure your talk
You’ve got 3 or 4 points you want to make. You have enough, but not too many, impressive facts to support those points. Now what?
- Introduce yourself, your background, what you’re going to talk about.
- Introduce your key points early, then expand on them with facts, anecdotes, humour etc.
- Signpost it all - eg. “I’ve explained X and Y, my final point is Z…” Try to use an overhead or handout with key points/headings.
- Finally, summarise your points and tie it all together. It’s good to finish on an upbeat note, like an inspiring quote or a call to action. Never leave people feeling hopeless!
In other words…Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them it. Then tell them what you’ve just told them. They should get the message!
Practice (and preparation!) makes perfect
- Write it out, read it through until you have the outline in your head, rehearse it in front of someone (a mirror, friend, tape, cat…) If you’re nervous, knowing it inside out will improve matters.
- Practice key words and phrases, and really emphasize them.
- Time it, and don´t overrun - if you do, it means you’re not being concise enough.
- Try out any jokes on your friends - nothing worse than them falling flat!
- Try not to read from a script - it comes across as unnatural. Strip your speech down to a few key words or phrases for prompts.
- Know exactly where the venue is, and that you can get there in time.
- Check they will provide the equipment you need.
- Is this an opportunity to put out campaign materials (leaflet on each chair or co-conspirator standing by the door), or set up a stall? Do you need sign up sheets, pens, petitions?
Preparation on the day
- Dress to impress. Match your look to the impression you want to make.
- Arrive at least 30 mins early - an hour if you’ve not been there before. Get there with enough time to test any equipment you’re using, set up the video etc.
- Use the toilet before going on, and check your appearance in the mirror.
- Empty your pockets. Fiddling with coins and keys is almost irresistible.
- Don’t have more than one drink before going on, no matter how nervous you may feel!
- Get someone to stand at the back, to check you can be heard, and point it out early if not.
At the start
- Thank whoever for introducing you and the audience for making time for you.
- Tell them who you are, so you know they don´t have any unreasonable expectations.
- Tell people when they can ask questions - usually at the end, unless you are confident.
- Smile. You’ll feel better and be more likeable!
- Speak very slowly, with plenty of pauses.
- Repeat important points.
- Repeat important points.
- Use the whole stage. Move around to keep them interested.
- Be human - use your face, hands and body to be expressive.
- Don’t swear - unless you don´t want to be taken seriously.
- Don’t digress or ramble. If you find yourself doing this stop, apologise and get back to the point.
- If you lose your thread, pause, take a deep breath and refer to your notes. People often do this on stage. Don’t ramble on regardless, even if it takes you a minute to compose yourself.
- Ask for questions at the end (and during if you’re really confident!).
- If you’re stuck, turn the question back on the audience, or one of the other speakers (if there are any). Don’t pretend to know, or argue something you haven’t had a chance to think through.
- Don’t be afraid to pause and gather your thoughts - you can always say, “let me think about that and get back to you…”
- Don’t get involved in an argument with anyone during the presentation. Ask them to bear with you, and tell them you’ll come back to it at the end. If someone fundamentally disagrees with you, agree to differ and move on, or everyone else will get bored. You can always say, “let’s talk about this after the meeting…”