11March 2024

Public Speaking Tips for Preparation

Preparation for Public Speaking comes in many forms:
(i)          having enough preparation time for choosing a subject;
(ii)         following the steps for creating the speech;
(iii)        preparing for a specific audience and
(iv)        preparing yourself for starting the actual presentation.
The key in each case is to start early.
And it is an easy mistake to think that sitting down and writing out a presentation is enough to be ready.

A good speech needs to be well-planned, but to be truly effective the speaker needs to feel comfortable with the material and that takes time.  Like a shrub in the garden, that may look nice as soon as it is planted, it will take a few days before it is robust and properly bedded in.
Similarly the best approach to preparing a speech or presentation is to do some preparatory work on it early on, leave it, come back to it, reconsider it, leave it and come back to it again giving it time to settle down.
I think of countless football world cups where the pitch has been laid at the last minute and tears up as soon as the match starts, because it did not have enough time to settle in.
You may feel that you do not have the luxury of time to prepare thoroughly, but in reality it takes no more time to prepare properly than ‘blitzing’ the project in a panic at the last minute.  The only difference being that the time spent is spread out over a longer period.  It is less stressful and if for any reason you find that the speech is not coming together you can just come back to it another couple of times, rather than finding that you cannot go to bed the night before the presentation because it is all still a mess!

10 tips for preparing well

  1. The Five Canons

The five canons of rhetoric are a fantastic blueprint for preparation.  You may find you do not need all of them every time or you could join a couple together, but as a traditional, solid, step by step approach to creating a presentation they are excellent:
(i)            Inspiration
(ii)           Arrangement
(iii)          Style
(iv)         Memory
(v)          Delivery
Sometimes you may be sitting in front of a blank piece of paper searching for some spark of inspiration for subject matter, in which case using a mind map of whatever comes into your head is a good place to start.
Think about news and current affairs, conversations you have recently had, books, magazines, mundane routines, relationships, struggles.  You might find that a theme starts to reveal itself as you draw circles around isolated ideas and see how some of them connect.  Maybe a simple event or daily habit reveals an underlying universal truth or hidden connection (like comparing preparing a speech to planting a shrub).
Possibly you may find that some of the ideas, rather than revealing underlying principles or similarities, do the opposite and reveal fundamental contrasts that you could use in your speech.
On the other hand you may already be further advanced and know already what you want to talk about, in which case the mind mapping exercise can be used to work out how you would approach the subject and start to think about how to ‘arrange’ the ideas into a coherent speech.
Style might be about whether you want to be funny or serious, formal or familiar, erudite or affable.
Memory should not be about memorising word for word, as that tends to make a speech stiff and inflexible.
It might be about:
- how full or sparse you notes need to be,
- how to join sections of the speech together,
- what stories and examples you could use to illustrate the main messages and then
- to take time to think or talk the material through and practise how to present the speech.
This might morph into Delivery, where you might not just consider all the aspects of stance, gestures, voice etc, but more specifically – based on the work you have done on the first four canons – which words need to be stressed for maximum impact, so that your ‘Delivery’ matches your ‘Style’ and everything lines up so that you can put across a clear and strong message.

  1. The Audience

An important part of the process of preparation, woven through each stage of the five canons should be a consideration of who you will be talking to, in what context and in what environment.  A school sixth form is a very different audience to an after dinner speech, not just in terms of age, but attitude and level of attention.
A very basic exercise I give to Public Speaking students is to consider an upcoming or a recent presentation and to write down at least three reasons why that audience would want to attend – and that needs to be three reasons for them, not three reasons for the speaker.  As Brian Tracey would say:
‘To sell Joe Jones what Joe Jones buys, you need to see the world through Joe Jones’ eyes.’
The same subject delivered to two very different audiences might need to be approached from two very different perspectives, because the audience might be motivated by very different things.

  1. The Message

A recurring question I ask when I am working with presenters is:
‘What is your point?’
Often the response is a bit vague or rambling.
Unless you are clear about your precise destination, the journey will be also be rambling and meandering.
This is why debating clubs will start with a premise like:
‘This house believes that Trust is the only true foundation of a sustainable business relationship’
because it gives clear parameters and focus to the subject and we can then argue whether trust is the only or just one important factor in a sustainable business relationship.
A premise like:
‘Trust is important’ is too vague and could be applied to too many situations.
This is why a significant part of your speech may be given over to actually setting out and defining the precise nature of the subject matter before asserting a point of view or coming to a conclusion.
What do we mean by ‘foundation’; to what degree ‘sustainable’?
The main purpose of a presentation is to help the audience to arrive at a universal conclusion, not to lose half of the audience on the way because they have a different understanding of the meaning of the word ‘trust’.

  1. The Structure

The danger with writing out a speech is that it can become a stream of ideas without any real clear structure.
Therefore even if you do find yourself wanting to write your ideas out, try to contain them in a very simple structure that allows you clarity and flexibility when delivering the presentation.
Typically we are talking about an introduction, a conclusion and no more than three sections, ideas or themes.  There can be further division within each section, but each one needs to be clear in the speaker’s mind, so that even if you decide to cover something spontaneously or divert from the planned outline, you still know where you are in the flow of the presentation.

  1. Key imagery

Once you are clear about what the key messages are and the overall structure of the presentation, it is worth identifying what powerful examples, stories or statistics you can use to drive those points home.
Your audience probably will not remember your messages by themselves, but they will remember a clear or arresting image.  And if they remember your image, they will then find their way back to your point.

  1. Vocalise

Unless you intend to read your presentation word for word, you need to develop a little freedom to your delivery.  The best place to start is with your stories and examples.  Whenever you have a few moments of free time, talk through your story and keep repeating it until it feels comfortable.  Once you have done that, you can consider talking through complete sections of your presentation.

  1. ‘Killer’ lines

Every presentation will come to a point or will revolve around an important message.
If you can refine that message into a short neat sound-bite it will have greater impact.
All of the rhetorical devices we use; alliteration, repetition, rhyme, rhythm, are ways of giving our important words and ideas impact and making them stand out.  Most of the presentation will be simple everyday narrative language, but it is worth capturing your main points in a more memorable form.

  1. Walk the room

Preparation is about taking control, being able to react to the unexpected and thinking on your feet.
Therefore it makes sense to be as familiar a possible with what you can control so that you can respond better should the unexpected arise. This includes familiarising yourself with the room, if possible.
Where will you be standing?
Is there a microphone? (Hand held, fixed or a lapel mic?)
Who is controlling the slides?
Where is the projector and screen?
Is there a lectern or a table – or nothing?
How big is the audience?
Who is handing over to you?
And if you can, it is worth standing in the exact position of the presentation and imagining how you intend to start

  1. Timing

Run the presentation, if timing is critical, or if more experienced have a clear idea of what sections can be cut or shortened if needs be

  1. …And Yourself

Prepare yourself!  All the steps outlined above are part of your preparation, but ask yourself are there any extra final things you could do to make sure to perform well. 
Avoid coffee and certainly alcohol – however tempting.
Visualise the opening.  Sit quietly in a corner if that helps, or else sit with a friend if you would rather be distracted.  Breathe slowly and deeply.  Hold a lucky charm or run a lucky ritual if you feel that helps.. 
Do anything that will help you achieve the right state of mind.

And then finally:
Remind yourself of your key message, and then
Think of your first line –
And off you go!

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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.