Thursday, June 23 2022

Very few of us are naturally articulate. But in an age of disconnection – working from home, connecting to the world through a laptop camera – the ability to communicate clearly and effectively has never been more important.

My public speaking journey began in 2010, after discovering that 74% of Americans suffer from speaking anxiety. My research led me to the ancient Greeks, who invented learning to speak, until today, when I joined Toastmasters, the largest organization in the world dedicated to teaching art. to speak in public.

What have I learned? Being a great speaker has nothing to do with who you are, with overcoming shyness or learning to be confident. It’s a technical skill that almost anyone can learn, just like cooking.

A simple formula

Whether you’re preparing for a TEDx leadership conference or preparing to explain to your boss why you deserve a raise, you need to define two things first:

  • Your audience: Who are they? How do they see the world or the situation? What do they already know about you and your subject? What will they gain from listening to you speak?
  • Your goal: Why are you talking to them? What do you want them to know? Why is this important? What are you trying to get them to do?

Then it’s time to distill your message. One effective method is to use this simple 15-word sentence: Following my [talk], they will understand [this], and answer with [doing that].

Here are some examples:

  • Following my presentation of our company’s analysis platform, they will understand how we can help them increase their sales, and answer with hire us to consult on their portfolios.
  • Following my explanation of why we will grow 21% next year, they will understand how valuable I am to the company, and answer with give me a raise.
  • Following my 4th quarter commercial presentation, they will understand why we need to focus more on developing younger customers, and respond with approve the budget to develop our research team.

Tips for preparing your speech

1. Memorize your introduction and conclusion. Brain freeze most often occurs during those horrific seconds when you are facing a crowd for the first time.

If a slide, statistic, joke, or anecdote doesn’t serve your purpose, cut it.

2. It’s not about you. Every decision you make should demonstrate that you are speaking for the good of your audience, not your own. (Just think about what it feels like to listen to someone gossip about something you don’t care about.)

3. Do everything you can to help them get along and understand you. People are bad at listening. Use short words, sentences and paragraphs to express your ideas; physical, concrete and living images that appeal to the senses; and choices of active verbs instead of abstract or passive language.

4. Don’t drown your audience in data. If your talk is about big data, be sure to explain what that data means – on a human level. People want to know how you think, feel, and believe. That’s why you’re in the same room (or on Zoom) as them, instead of emailing the data.

Do everything you can to help them get along and understand you. People are bad at listening.

5. Eliminate anything that does not clearly support your goal. If a slide, statistic, joke, or anecdote doesn’t serve your purpose, cut it.

6. Record or practice in front of real people – or both, if you can. It will be painful. Believe me, I understand. But you better hate yourself before your speech, rather than during (and probably a long time after) your speech.

John bowe is a speech trainer, award-winning journalist and author of “I have something to say: master the art of public speaking in the age of disconnection.” He has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, GQ, McSweeney’s, This American Life and many more. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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