How To Prepare A Talk Like A professional
Let me ask you some questions regarding when you have been asked to speak.
- Do you take it seriously?
- Do you send a speakers questionnaire to the event organiser?
- Do you start preparing at least 3 months in advance (if you have notice)?
- Do you get information about the venue, AV, audience members?
- Do you get feedback from an expert in the speaking industry about your speech?
- Do you practice it at least 10 times?
- To many people, when I pose these questions answer with a resounding, “ummm sometimes,” or “No, not really.”
So, let me pose this scenario.
If you were an actor (as many people tell me they are speakers) and you had been asked to deliver a 60 minute show to an audience who had paid to see you, would you prepare the way many speakers do:
- write the show 2 weeks prior
- send a draft to a friend (layperson) to read
- practice at home
- deliver the talk on the night, hoping for the best
The answer is most probably NO.
But that is what so many people who call themselves speakers do.
Do you take the title of speaker as seriously as somebody who calls themselves an actor?
It is the same thing, a PERFORMANCE.
If you don’t, then read further and see how to prepare to not just deliver an ‘good’ speech but an ‘extraordinary’ speech, that will have the audience impacted days later.
Gathering Speaker Information
As soon as you have been asked to speak, is the time you should start drafting out the structure of your speech.
Before you do that, you really need to gather relevant information from the event organiser.
Why not send them a speakers questionnaire, that asks about:
- the venue
- the audience
- speaking topic
- what are the issues/problems they are experiencing
- speech time allocation
- previous speakers (what you liked and what they didn’t like)
Once you have received this, the next step would be to have a call with the event organiser.
This serves two purposes:
1. It creates a relatedness between yourself and the organiser. They can feel rest assured that they are in safe hands.
2. You can ask any questions that arise from the speakers questionnaire.
Keep It Simple
It is very possible that you might have the tendency to start writing your speech once the information is in.
But I warn you to be very careful about this. It is much more challenging to cut back, than it is to add to your speech.
So my advice is to start with a skeleton outline first:
- 3 to 5 key points (dependent on time)
- Key message
After this you can then start expanding on each section.
One thing to be aware of is that you want to keep the 3 to 5 key points as simple as possible.
Simple for you to remember as you won’t be using notes and simple for the audience to follow.
There is nothing worse than overloading the audience with information. Their brains will start to shut off, as it is burning too many calories to process the information and will go into survival mode.
I remember I was once at a poetry evening. It was such an enjoyable event, then this young man came onto the stage. I was eager to savour his words.
The only thing was that he spoke so fast, that I was having to work way too hard to decipher his words and eventually I gave up and just sat back and observed my surrounding, until he had finished.
And yes, I did give him feedback afterwards, what worked and what definitely didn’t work.
Well, how else are you going to improve, if you don’t receive feedback.
Once you have done this, by all means write your speech out in its entirety, just to get the thoughts flowing, the quotes, the anecdotes, the metaphors, evidence, analogies, facts, statistics and examples.
Get it all out and then cut it by a third. Leave in the golden nuggets, the bits of information that add to the message, subject matter and CUT THE FLUFF.
Fluff are words that are not needed and won’t even be noticed if they disappeared,
Remember on average, a speakers talks between 135-150 words a minute. So if you have a 60 minute presentation that is about 8,000 – 9000 words.
You need to work out rough timings for each sections.
- Introduction (2 minutes)
- Icebreaker (3 minutes)
- Roadmap (2 minutes)
- Story (5-8 minutes)
- 3 to 5 key points (3 x 10 minutes per point)
- Summary + Key Message (5 minutes)
- Additional cushioning time (10 minutes)
- Total: 60 minutes in total
Now this part is essential. Feedback is King and Queen in the speaking industry, well in any industry as a matter of fact.
If you want to improve your performance, you need to know:
- what worked
- what didn’t work, and
- what needs to be improved
I delivered each section of my speech to a very talented speaker.
She was looking for:
- Is this section relating to me
- Do I understand the content
- Is it useful for me
- Does it overall land well with me
As we went through each section, I was given feedback on what needed to be improved and then immediately redelivered it with those additional changes, so that it became more ingrained.
The most challenging part was my story.
Why because a story is there to:
- elicit state changes (emotions) in the audience
- have them enthralled from the beginning to the end
- have them pull the story towards themselves and see how it relates to them
- change the energy in the room
- keep them engaged, informed and inspired
- encompass your talk
and here is where you need to ensure that your delivery of this section is TOPNOTCH.
Because to the audience it really is like they are watching an episode of Casualty or seeing an actor deliver a one man/woman show on stage.
Storytelling is an art form and therefore you really need to take the time to craft it, shape it, tease it, add dialogue, sensory language and all the delivery techniques of projection, pace, power, pause and pitch.
I must have delivered my story at least 5 times before I was happy to proceed with delivering the rest of my talk for feedback.
I cannot highlight how important feedback is. Even for a professional like myself, it is invaluable in enabling me to up my game each time I speak.
Then practice. It is up to you how many times you practice and how you practice.
You may be the kind that can run through it from beginning to end in one go.
Or you might be like me, that unless I have an audience, I don’t find that way effective.
I usually have the key words and the points I am going to deliver on one piece of paper and then I:
- run through it in my head, and visualise each section and the words I am saying
- also I run through my talk as I am walking to the bus, on the tube etc. many, many times
Now I talk it through out loud. Yes, I may seem like a mad person, I don’t care, or I put on my headphones so people don’t give me a second look and just think I am reciting the words to the song. It works, that is all that I care about.
Now here is something new I have been doing and it makes such a real difference.
I have a clearing call with my coach. Now what is a clearing call?
Many professional athletes and performers do this.
Your coach will ascertain where you are on the spectrum of 1 to 10 regarding your talk.
In my case, I was around an 8.
We spoke about what was in the space of me not being a 10?
The aim of the conversation is to get me EMPTY…
Yes, I said it, EMPTY.
Empty of any thoughts that I have placed in my head around my talk that aren’t real.
- what if I forget
- this is the first time I am delivering this talk
- what if it goes wrong
Really all of those things I JUST MADE UP… because they aren’t true. They aren’t real.
So the aim of the call is to get me to a 10, relating to my performance that evening and to take anything out of the space that won’t serve me.
Last week when I was delivering an important talk, I did just that.
I arrived at the venue, I was calm, in control and really looking forward to delivering the talk.
I was REALLY EXCITED… what a great place to be before one starts a talk.
Be In Your Flow
Lastly, when you deliver your speech, you have to learn how to be IN FLOW.
Another word for this is IN THE ZONE.
You know when you are playing a game you are good at and you don’t have to think about it, your body just responds and you are not having to think about it.
Well, that is the place you need to be in when delivering your talk.
Have the keywords to the side if you need them but just trust that your brain knows your speech.
If you leave anything out, don’t worry… shhhh! Only you know that.
So just have fun and know you are making a huge contribution to others.
Testimonials and Feedback
Lastly remember to get testimonials and feedback from the audience.
The testimonials are so you can use them to promote yourself and your talk.
Feedback is so that you can always learn to improve and get honest anonymous feedback, from the audience.
Below I attach some testimonials I received about my talk last week.
Until we speak again, remember to Unleash Your Speaking Greatness.
“Elaine did a 1.5h for the Young MCA entitled “Thinking Your Way To Success”. In that time she managed to inspire, move, transfer knowledge, challenge habits, uncover deeply embedded self-depreciating patterns and give the group tools to enhance their careers and lives. What could you do in 1.5h?”
Wojciech Busz, Senior Consultant at OEE Consulting
“Your presentation on Wednesday was fantastic, extremely thought-provoking, and generally very interesting.”
“We asked Elaine to be our keynote speaker at one of our Young Management Consultants Association skills event (Thinking Your Way To Success). The Young MCA is network of young consultants from top Management Consulting firms in the UK. Elaine was very easy and professional to work with from the get go. She has a client focused approach to her delivery, she arranged a number of meetings with us before our event to ensure she tailored her session with the requirements of the Young MCA. Her delivery on the day was very impressive, impactful and inspiring. She was very authentic with her delivery by sharing her personal story, her session was very interactive which made it easy to learn. I learnt a lot from her session on how to improve my confidence to become a peak performer, I have started to use some of the principles both at work and at home. I will recommend Elaine to anyone who is looking for someone to inspire their workforce and increase their confidence, we got really good feedback from those who attended.”
Ade Tokan, Alumni Advisor at The University of Nottingham
Until the next time, Unleash Your Speaking Greatness