The Well-Prepared SpeakerPreparation is an essential tool in public speaking. Are you ready for your next speaking engagement?
Preparing well for your speaking engagement will go a long way toward ensuring your success. A well-prepared speaker is confident and poised. He or she appears knowledgeable in the subject matter and qualified to both educate the audience and answer their questions. Your pre-speech preparation is your credibility; if you haven't done your homework, it will show.
Know Your Audience
Perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle is audience analysis. You can spend days researching your subject and preparing elaborate visual aids, but if you don't understand the people who will be listening to you, you won't be able to reach them. Start by speaking to the person who has organized the event at which you will speak. See if you can get a general description of the audience; for example, what is the gender breakdown? What are the approximate ages of the audience members, their educational backgrounds, and their ethnicities? In many cases, you will be speaking to an organized group such as an alumni association or professional club. If this is the case, you can go into your speech knowing that everyone in your audience shares a common thread such as an alma mater or a career path.
By understanding your audience's beliefs, values and attitudes you can structure your speech in a way that makes sense to them. You can use anecdotes or examples that they can relate to and avoid sensitive subjects that they might find offensive. You don't want to make any lawyers-chained-at-the-bottom-of-the-sea jokes at the annual meeting of your local bar association!
Know Your Location
Here again, the person organizing your event becomes an invaluable resource. Ask this person how much time you have been allotted on the agenda and if consideration has been made for a question and answer period. Running over your time period is rude and confuses the flow of the event; running extremely short will make you appear unprepared and unprofessional.
Let the organizer know well in advance what your audio/visual needs will be. If you will be using a slide show or another form of visual aid that requires a projector or screen, make sure you tell someone. Many event centers and businesses require that equipment is reserved days ahead of time and getting it at the last minute is not always possible. Ask about the size of the room and its general layout so that you will have an understanding of where you will be positioned with regard to your audience. The more you know going in, the more confident you'll feel when you get there.
Gathering Your Materials
Start with what you know. You've chosen this subject for a reason, or you've been invited to speak about this topic because you are considered knowledgeable. Write down everything you know about the subject and begin to organize the information in terms of what you feel your audience will need to know. What do you want them to take away from your talk?
Next, conduct solid research to supplement your information with statistics, examples, stories or photos. If your subject matter warrants it you may choose to add visual aids to your talk - graphs often help to illustrate a financial point; flow charts help to explain a series of events or a cause and effect pattern.
Some speakers choose to use a hand-out to supplement their discussion and to give their audience a "take away" as a resource for a later date. If you will be handing out materials to your audience make sure you've asked how many people are expected to attend; then make arrangements to have at least 10 extra available.
Develop an Outline
Your outline is the skeleton of your speech. Most speakers use an extemporaneous delivery method, meaning that they use an outline to keep their ideas straight but they talk to the audience in a casual, conversational tone. Start with a rough outline and continue to refine it until you get to a final version, adding and deleting points as it makes sense. You should have a solid introduction and conclusion and the body should flow in a way that supports your central idea. Do not include details that are not relevant to your central idea as it will only confuse your audience. Keep your points to a minimum as well. In general, three main points is recommended.
In addition to outlining your actual speech, prepare a list of potential questions or talking points that might come up during the question and answer ("Q and A") section. Being caught off guard by a question can rattle you, but by arming yourself with research and organization you will handle this part of your speech with ease.
Practicing your speech out loud in the comfort of your own home is an absolute must. Ask a friend to be your test audience and to give you honest feedback. Try videotaping yourself so that you can see your facial expressions and the ways in which you incorporate your visual aids. Most importantly, time yourself. You need to know that your speech will fit into the time slot that you have been assigned. It's very easy to misjudge how long a speech will take to deliver. Words that look amazing on paper can turn into a tongue twister when you try to say them out loud. Jokes can fall flat; visual aids can be rendered irrelevant. Practice, practice, practice! Skip this step at your own peril.
Learning to become an engaging and effective public speaker will guide you down the path to career success in almost any professional field. While some people are lucky enough to be born with a natural talent for public speaking, most of us have to work at it. The good news is that preparing well is not difficult. With a bit of time, effort and patience, you can gain the tools it takes to be an outstanding speaker who commands an audience's attention and respect.
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