18March 2024

Public Speaking Tips for Inspiration

The rag and bone shop of inspiration

Eventually, all speakers, writers, and poets get stuck in one place: lack of inspiration.
What can I talk about?
What can I talk about that I have not already talked about?
The poet WB Yeats concluded that when inspiration has run dry the only place to look is to look back inside of yourself, to find that one thing at your core and use it to create a ladder that connects who you are, what you feel or what you believe to the world outside
                ‘I must lie down where all the ladders start
                In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.’

And maybe a simpler way to put it is in the advice I heard from a stand-up comedian (someone who also belongs to a category of person who is always desperately looking around for material that is strong enough to share.)  
His three top tips for good stand-up material can just as easily apply to Public Speaking and Presentation Skills:
- Explore something you know
- Connect with people’s experiences
- Focus on one single idea (and make that a simple idea)
I am not a poet like Yeats, but when he provides the wonderful image of ‘the foul rag and bone shop of the heart’ he is referring to ‘exploring something that he knows’ and the image of rag and bone shop suggests that it does not have to be some grand scheme, as any old piece of material that you might find in your rag and bone shop is potentially good material. 
However that material only starts to mean something to the audience when it ‘connects with people’s experiences’ and that is when you find the foot of your ladder and start to climb from whatever place you have chosen to start to reach where other people are and thereby make the connection to their world,
and then if you want your audience to walk away with one strong, clear message, make sure you are only giving them one message in the first place.

I have heard many speeches that either started somewhere outside of the ‘rag and bone shop’ and so lacked the personal connection and emotional credibility necessary to make an impact, or else if they did start in the ‘rag and bone shop’, they never found a ladder out.

Two examples.
I remember listening to a woman speak about how she first met her husband.
1. She was certainly exploring something she knew,
2. would connect with many people’s experiences.
So far so good.
However, as long as she was only relating specifically to other people who had also met their long-term partner, which would resonate with many in the room, it might not particularly relate to people who had not yet found their lifelong special person or those who had no intention of ever looking for that person.  So to broaden the appeal she might have used her experience to talk about the more general power of ‘first impressions’, and ‘how we often make major decisions based on first impressions’ and thereby she would engage a larger part of her audience with her theme.
However, the real problem with the speech was that her presentation did not have
3. one clear single idea.  She may have been talking about one event – meeting her husband - but she did not have one theme or message to draw out of the experience.

The second example is a presentation I heard on updating the signaling system on the railways!
(And you might already suspect what the challenge might be here.)
1. 'Explore something you know' – definitely – he had worked for 40 years on the railways
3. 'Focus on one single idea' – rather specific, but it was there –‘why the system needed to be modernised’
2. 'Connect with people’s experiences?' – and there was the problem!
A lot of rag and bone; not much ladder!
If he had chosen to relate his talk specifically to his audience’s experiences as commuters – how the main benefit of modernising the signals would lead to better journeys to work for all of us on a Monday - there would have been a connection to most of our experiences,
or if he had used his signaling expertise as his specific example of how essential it is to ‘keep up to date’ in all fields, he would have made a better universal connection with all the individuals in the room.

And I still remember one time listening to a lady talking about her children’s birthdays, about arguments with her husband over the choice of colour of the living room curtains, about going on a rainy night to a child’s school – certainly all content from the floor of her rag and bone shop, but I remember the presentation as being profound and mesmerising.
...because although all the examples were small and sounded like the trivialities that one shares over a cup of coffee, the one message she hose to focus on, that was so relatable and so powerful was how the strongest and deepest relationships are formed by our daily habits and priorities.
She had managed to
- Explore something she knew
- Connect with people’s experiences
- Focus on one single idea

Searching through ‘The Rag and Bone shop’ implies that it could be a long search and that you have probably already looked through the things that seem most obvious to talk about, but Yeats’ image also suggests a richness of variety, of potential surprises and bargains to be uncovered, that could be picked up and made into something of value.
Don’t be too quick to pass over something that seems unimportant or incomplete.
It may contain a seed.
We just need to ask ourselves:
1. Is this something of me that I know about or have some special connection to?
2. How can I connect this to other people?
And the secret is if you find a story, a memory, or a very specific experience, can you then find a wider, universal message in that story that you can carry up the ladder to relate to your audience.
We all have our own rag-and-bone shops and maybe a unique personal example might inspire others to look more carefully for their own.
And then crucially to add focus to the presentation
3. What is your point?  What is the single idea that you want to leave your listener with?

And bear in mind that your chosen idea should never be the answer to the question:
What are you going to talk about?’
it should always be the answer to the question:
Why are you talking about it?

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Michael's superb training style is underpinned by an incredible depth of knowledge and experience. Like all true experts, he delivers what he knows with ease and simplicity, exampling the skills he is teaching as he does so.

Very informative and great anecdotes which illustrated points and provided visual markers.

The most interesting training that I have ever taken part in! Experience + Wisdom + Perfect teaching approach.

The training was spot on. He really listened to us and customised his responses throughout.

Loved the creation of visual examples through the use of body and how relating the experience really helps demonstrate the message.

Very approachable and motivational. So much information, brilliantly delivered.

Loads of great analogies and stories - very friendly and helpful.

Very approachable and knowledgeable and good use of examples to simplify the material.

In just one day Michael was able to teach a class of children how to craft their own personal stories and experiences into powerful and engaging speeches that resonate with an adult audience as well as with a younger audience. It is a marvellous way to help them increase self-confidence and in the process - almost without them even realising it - become natural speakers and excellent communicators.

Michael has a style of speaking which draws the audience into his world, captivates them and leaves them with lasting memories of some of the descriptive phrases he has used and the information he has included. He also has the ability to pass the skills he uses in his own speaking on to those he trains.

Very good rapport, attention to detail, individual support, positive atmosphere and encouragement - a great place for learning.

• Very great example; how to express yourself, how to be engaging and how to match body language with what is said.