Seven P’s for Public Speaking

13 Feb

It’s usually during the second term that I get asked by students for some tips for their upcoming presentations and/or facilitation activities.  I must say, if you intend to be a psychology student at my alma mater (the University of Perpetual Help in Laguna), that would mean lots and lots of training in public speaking, group dynamics and eventology in general.  It’s scary at first–but you’ll love it, in shaa Allah (God willing).

Anyway, here’s a list of (seven) P’s I shared with students once in one of my presentations.  Just my thoughts.  Feel free to add some more–and please share them with me.  Let’s help each other learn more and grow more, in shaa Allah (God willing).

Obviously, this is about choosing a topic. Before you’re even asked to give talks or facilitate workshops, come up with your personal list of topics–arrange them from those you like most to those you prefer the least. Pick topics that are closest to your heart because it’s something you’ve personally experienced or you strongly believe in.  When you do, you’ll find that speaking to a group, even if you’re an introvert, can actually still give you that “at home” feeling–ideas and examples flow, and before you know it, you have an engaged crowd.

Yes, we can’t always get the topic we want because more often than not, we could just be invited to give a speech. However, being invited does not necessarily mean automatically accepting. If you know you’re not the best person for the job given your current knowledge or circumstance, it’s your responsibility to respectfully decline–recommend someone you know would do great, if you wish.
Picking a topic, if we reflect on it, requires two H’s–honesty and humility.  Be honest with yourself in identifying the topics you know you love and you can handle, including those youwish to handle in the near future (the wishlist would provide you an opportunity to keep growing and improving, with God’s grace).  And, be humble enough to admit what you can’t handle at the moment–it’s a responsibility to yourself and to your prospective audience.

Once you have a topic, you now need to ask yourself:

  • who is your target audience and how big is the crowd? (are they students, professionals, housewives, out-of-school youth, and the like?)
  • what is the time allotment and what time are you speaking? (everybody knows people have this tendency to fall asleep after lunch or at around 8pm onwards, so either keep it brief or packed with simple but interesting activities)
  • what are the essentials of the topic which you hope to discuss for this particular event? (a topic can actually be so broad that some speakers would have a lecture series on it. You’re lucky if you can have a series of lectures.  However, if it’s a one-time stint, ask yourself–what essentials would you want to pass on to others?)
  • where will the event be and what audiovisual equipment would be made available? (you wouldn’t want to make the mistake of preparing a slideshow only to find out later on they don’t have a projector available or that the event will be under the sun)
  • how are you going to present it? (this one becomes easy to answer when you’ve answered the questions previously mentioned.  remember? communication is not just about what to say but also how to say it.)

So you’ve pondered on the important questions (you can add some more to the list, by the way)…the next step is to prepare your talking points and/or PowerPoint presentation. No matter how long you’ve been in the public speaking arena, it always helps to have a list of the things you want to share. If a podium is available, those numbered index cards or post-it’s can come in really handy.  Just have key points written on them which would serve as your guide all throughout your speech. Just having key words there would also make your talk more engaging because you’ll avoid reading everything, hence, you’ll be connecting more with your audience.

For some, their PowerPoint presentation itself serves as their guide. Keep each slide light on text–just the essentials.  A quote or a photo or one word driving your point, for example, would do.  Teachers know this much: the heavier with text your presentation is, the higher the tendency for students to just copy and not listen.  So, keep it light yet followed by interesting questions and explanations. And, oh, those impromptu speeches?  Those speakers may not have physical talking points with them, but they do have a mental rundown of what to say.  With the very few minutes given to them to prepare, believe me when I say they try their best to organize their thoughts as fast as they can, and as calmly as they can.

Did you know practice is not just speaking but also writing?

Speeches are simply essays delivered orally in the same way songs are poems voiced out melodiously.  Your talking points are actually the skeleton of your essay. Give flesh and life to them by writing down your thoughts per talking point: if you have to define or describe something, do it.  Follow it up with short explanations. Give examples–even use jokes if you deem it best. Write. Review. Revise. Finalize.
After writing, read.  Silently at first, if you wish. Then, out loud. Share it with a close friend–have him listen to you deliver it. Be open to suggestions.

And yes, be open to learning from others, too: watch other speakers in action, be it in person or online through their youtubed or streamed talks, and try to see which techniques you might want to practice for yourself.

Now, don’t laugh at this, but practice in front of a mirror. Make yourself enjoy talking to yourself.  Take a video of yourself even, and be your own critique.

Oh, by the way, you need not memorize your essay. Stick to the talking points.  Writing the essay was just part of the practice in organizing and presenting your thoughts (after all, there are moments when an idea seems so clear in your head but so vague once you deliver it…so writing helps you check and correct yourself).

And I mean present.  Let’s use the word play because all work should be play, really–that is, enjoy what you’re doing. Enjoy presenting.  No, your audience is not out there to bury you alive or to grind you.  They’re there to learn something from you and you from them. It’s a win-win situation, really: they like you presentation, Alhamdulillah (praise GOD) right there because your efforts obviously paid off; they didn’t quite like it, Alhamdulillah as well because you’ve just been given an opportunity to challenge yourself to do better.

So, play with all of your heart; and remember: no kid played a game perfectly the first, second, third or even the tenth time…but they find joy in playing until they get better and better.

Major reminder: Never begin your talk with an apology, but with positivity.  If you have to ask for pardon, ask for it in the end. If things start off not quite as expected–a major delay, for example, apologizing in the beginning does not necessarily help as it will only remind them of the sad situation and might even make you unintentionally give excuses.  I personally find saying something like “Thank you for being here and may I be given the chance to make the most of my time with you as we learn from each other, with God’s grace” more uplifting.

Before ending, also ask for pardon for any wrong or inaccurate information you delivered.  Don’t let pride get the better of you.  Remember: anything good we are able to impart is from The All-Wise; anything incorrect is of our own shortcomings.

And yes, allow your heart to pardon anyone from the audience who made speaking difficult for you. Pray for the person and think of the situation as a test of patience for you–will you pass the test?

From the very beginning until the very end, pray.  Pray for guidance–that HE allows you to be of service.  More importantly, pray as a sign of gratefulness for the opportunity being given to you to grow and to pass on to others what HE has allowed you to learn or gain in life.
Pray and turn public speaking into a form of prayer, in shaa ALLAH.

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Posted by on February 13, 2013 in wOrK = pLaY



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