SPEAKING AT THE FRONT OF THE ROOM

Say something!

Say something!

Public speaking can focus the mind in a singularly powerful way. In preparing for a public talk, a speaker must not only organize his or her thoughts, but must do so in a way that makes them crystal clear to an audience who hasn't heard them before. If the speaker prepares properly, that process will reveal flaws in logical arguments, examples that may not convey proper authority or power, and dramatic beats that do not make audience pulses quicken on cue. Preparation and rehearsal are vital to the enterprise because the goal, of course, is to move your audience.

Public speaking can play with your head, too. A great talk given once can convince you that you're the keeper of something profound, a seer, a visionary. A great talk given repeatedly can gradually inure you the hard work it takes to keep presenting it afresh each and every time you present it. Remember, the next audience has not yet heard what the last audience heard. The job of a speaker is to make it fresh and new each and every time.

I'm reminded that so much public speaking relies on electronic media these days. It's probably an unavoidable phenomenon. In a visually structured world, the power of images to amplify a message cannot be ignored. But to cede all of a message's power to smart pictures usually dilutes the message itself and disrespects the process of designing those images. If you're going to use pictures, develop them in concert with your talk, lest you bolt them on as an afterthought and start to believe that "giving your audience something to look at" is a good idea. Once your audience thinks that your pictures at least give them something to do while you drone on, you can safely count yourself among the walking dead at the front of the room.

Which leads to the most obvious thing that so many, many speakers miss. Say something that matters. It's not enough to be an expert in a subject. Whatever you do be sure to think hard about what you're going to say and how you're going to say it. If you're message is ordinary, boring, irrelevant, or otherwise not very engaging, it will mean even less to your audience. That's why, to bring this blog back to the beginning, rehearsal matters so much. In rehearsal you uncover the merits of what you want to communicate and the way you plan to do so. When you practice it like you're doing the real thing, you can't hide the sour notes, and you can savor the parts that sing out.

--MS

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