There are plenty of places on the web where speakers get together and discuss their art hoping to become better at it. They share tips; they discuss tactics, and everyone helps each other.
But when I was taking part in a particularly interesting conversation where many speakers were talking about techniques, it suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t have a clue what these people spoke about. What was their subject?
Much of the literature about speaking states that anybody can become a speaker. It’s a skill that can be learned like riding a bike or a new language; it just takes practice and access to some tuition or by getting help from your peers. But what is it that people speak about?
For many people, speaking is borne out of a need, or even a desire to tell others about their particular passion. You can hear it in the way they project themselves at a conference, whether it be a gathering of model railway enthusiasts or the local Rotary Club, they love the subject so much that speaking about it is easy.
But others don’t speak about such things. Some speakers can speak about anything, and they do, regularly and with great success. How do they do it?
Death by PowerPoint
You’ve probably heard this term before, and it refers to those times you’ve been in a meeting and listened to someone drone on with hundreds of slides, reading off each one. I sat through a presentation once where someone insisted on reading the text, yes, every single word on every one of 90 slides in PowerPoint. It was horrendous and totally unnecessary.
When you speak, you are not there to bombard your audience with information to the point where it starts falling out of their ears. That’s called a lecture. No, you’re there to impart some information in an entertaining and enjoyable way so that people will remember it.
The key here is to focus. If you are speaking about the ways people can lose weight quickly, then you shouldn’t be reading out fifty recipes for people to write down and take away. You should be explaining just a small area of the subject matter and leaving the detail to leaflets and handouts.
Keep the focus small. Concentrate on one small part of the subject matter and learn everything you can about it and impart that knowledge to your audience.
And the important thing about it? You absolutely do not need to be an expert to speak about the subject. A friend of mine once gave an impassioned speech about the benefits of neural network based search engine technology to a group of undergraduates at Cardiff University. He knew nothing about neural networks, but he still got a standing ovation. If you know how to speak, keep your focus small, and you can enliven the crowd, that’s all you need to do.
Even so, if you’re a beginner, it’s good to know your subject matter just in case someone decides to question you.
So to get back to answer the question, here’s a handy reminder:
- When starting out, speak about something you know about. Just speak about a small part of it, however, and don’t feel you need to tell the audience everything in one mammoth session.
- When you’ve got some speaking gigs under your belt, you can eventually speak about anything.
- When speaking about a new subject, pick a small area and learn as much as you can about it.
- Being entertaining can usually plaster over the cracks, but be prepared for some awkward questions!
But most of all, enjoy it!