The Seven Deadly Sins of Public Speaking (and how the avoid them) #5

Sin #5 Getting Lost

I want to start with an admission. When it comes to finding my way around a new city, I am pretty awful. In fact, when it comes to giving directions around places I know, you are about as likely to get more lost than you are to get where you need to go. My wife, on the other hand, can draw freehand maps that make you feel like you are a local. With a few deft lines and some nice diagrams, she helped me find my way from a bus station in Murcia to a hotel the other side of town. Nice.

What does all this have to do with public speaking? Well, if you have heard more than a few talks, you will be familiar with a very worrying site. There are few things more off-putting for audience members than to see a speaker frantically search through their notes (or worse, flick back six slides) to figure out where they are and where they are supposed to be going. Expert they may well be but for those agonising ten seconds, they look pretty average, or even worse!

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is absolutely no reason why any speaker should ever get lost, ever! In fact, there is every reason why you should be able to survive a fire alarm, the invasion of an escaped Tyrannosaurus Rex and a power cut and still finish your talk as if nothing has gone wrong. Well, maybe not the T Rex bit…

The point is that by the time you get up on stage, you should know your talk so well that you could potentially do it without slides and even without notes. If anything notes and slides should be there to check pacing and as a handy aide mémoire, rather than as a prop that you cling onto for dear life.

How so? Well, by the time you actually do your talk, you should have rehearsed it at least enough that you have a mental “road map” in your head. No, you might not have every nice quote and every individual statistic but you should be able to reel off the argument quickly and simply. If you have thought about your t-shirt message and worked your content around that then you already know both your destination and how you want to get there. If you have been thinking about your audience, then you already have in your head an idea of how to shape your argument to be both helpful and convincing. And yes, you really should be both!

Whenever you do a talk, you are up there talking about something you know well. If this isn’t the case, then people wouldn’t have invited you to do the talk in the first place! It’s not as if you are a shoe salesman asked to talk about clutch manufacture or an astrophysicist  called into talk about haute couture. You are the expert. Staying on track and aware of where you are will convince your audience of that and will give them confidence in what you are saying. It might even help calm any nerves that you might have too.



About Jonathan Downie

I am a conference interpreter, public speaking coach, preacher and researcher.
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