Simple Rules for Presenting in Public

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Simple rules for presenting in public:  If you keep these simple rules in mind, you will be able to write and present an engaging speech, and make your audience remember what you want them to remember.

The first thing is to know your purpose in presenting, if you aren’t sure of your purpose, then your audience won’t know either. Now, your purpose for speaking is not the same thing as your topic or subject.  So what is the purpose for speaking? Well, the most common purposes include the following: to narrate an incident or topic for a specific purpose, to inform people about something, or to persuade people of something.  So in order to succeed in a public presentation, the first thing is for you to maintain a clear sense of why you are writing and giving your speech.  Once you know your purpose you can develop your main supporting points.  These need to be repeated three times during the presentation, they are introduced in the introduction, developed in the main body, and summarized in the conclusion.

Second, make sure to engage your audience; in order to do this, you need to get and keep their attention. The most important part of your presentation, therefore, is the first thirty seconds.  During this brief time window, you must grab the attention of the audience, and engage their interest in what you have to say.  So, how do you do this?  Well, for example, you might start by asking a thought-provoking question that gets your audience thinking about your topic.  This will likely take the form of a rhetorical question, that is a question which you don’t expect anyone to answer, but only to think about. You can then come back to the question later in your presentation and answer it.

You could ask your audience an actual question to get them to respond or interact, something like, “how many of you….” and fill in anything related to your topic to get a show of hands or some similar interactive response that engages members of your audience.  Another thing you might try is to make an interesting or controversial statement, which makes people react strongly, and then you have their attention as they will be interested to see why you are saying something so unusual or provocative.  For instance, if your topic was exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic, you could start by telling your audience that 86% of people have gained up to 3 kilograms during the COVID lockdown according to a study by Body Mass index Journal.

There are also more traditional methods such as using a relevant quote, perhaps from a well-known individual or organization.  You could even tell a joke, if appropriate.  However, be careful here.  Jokes do not travel well across cultural divides and what is appropriate in one context may be unfunny or offensive in another.  Most jokes make fun of someone which can be seen as unkind.  If you choose to use a joke, perhaps try asking Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant to tell you a joke, chances are any joke coming from such a device will be sanitized and generally acceptable.

Once you have your audience’s attention in the first 30 seconds then the next part of your introduction should be to tell them “what you are going to tell them”, i.e.: give them a brief outline of your presentation. Since your audience will hear your words instead of reading them, they won’t be able to go back and re-listen if they don’t understand, that is why we repeat the main ideas three times.  You might explain quickly what your main point is going to be, for example, “Today I want to talk to you about the importance of continuing to exercise and do physical activity safely during the COVID pandemic.”  This includes things you can do while at home, safe ways to exercise out in public spaces, and what to do at the gym or health club to stay safe.” Once you have hooked your audience’s attention and told them about your topic, your speech should move seamlessly to the body of your speech.

When planning, don’t try to put too many ideas into your presentation. Usually two to three main ideas a maximum of five, otherwise your audience will not remember what you have told them. Once you have decided on your main ideas, develop and support all your main points in the main body of your presentation.  When planning your main ideas, try to develop a viewpoint or a position you take such as an opinion, a specific statement about your purpose, an angle, or take a special approach to the subject.  This will help unify your presentation around this central idea.  Perhaps, in our COVID exercise example mentioned above, you could use the idea of safety as a unifying idea.

Once you have your theme, you need to support it with some of the following types of information.  Things like: facts, statistics, comparisons and contrasts, causes and effects, reasons, quotations, summary of ideas, even reference to your personal experiences if they are relevant.  Use this information to support your explanations, your analysis, reasons, interpretations and evaluations.   Advance your purpose by discussing problems, advantages and disadvantages, offer advice, offer solutions, and draw conclusions in order to persuade your audience of your purpose.

When you have your facts together and decided on the method to advance your purpose you need to decide on an organizing principle.  A typical example of an organizing principle for our exercise during the COVID presentation would be to use a “problem–solution.”  In the first part of the body of your speech, you state the problem, for example: “physical activity is very important, but the problem is that we need to keep safe while we exercise”. Then, follow this up with relevant support.  In the second part of the problem-solution organization, you then offer a solution.  For example: “a solution would be to put together an exercise plan where you spend some time doing in-home exercise, some time doing safely distanced public exercise and some time at the gym safely”, again followed by relevant support.

When you are writing your speech remember to write in a conversational tone. To do this, write in fairly short sentences.  Perhaps, write two simple sentences rather than one long, complicated sentence.   You can also use contractions such as I’m and we’re. Before you present, read your speech out loud or into your smartphone voice or video recorder.  If you do this, you will hear if your presentation sounds conversational.  Along with shorter sentences, use concrete details and examples in order to keep your audience interested.  Think which is more effective, a vague statement such as, “physical activity is limited during COVID,” or the more concrete like statements like “we need to change the way we behave during COVID-19 or we will lose our good health.”

When it is time to conclude, this is simple.  Do not introduce any new information.  Summarize your key points much as you did in your introduction.  Then, after your summary, leave your audience with a final thought which will keep them thinking about your presentation and fulfilling your purpose.  Often this will take the form of an appeal to action such as asking your audience to spread your idea or to do something. If you follow these simple rules you will be on your way to being an effective, influential public speaker.

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