A Fate Worse Than Death?
A couple of days ago I had finished the book “The Presentations Kit” by Claudyne Wilder. Having read this book it made me consider my experience with public speaking and recall being told that more people fear public speaking than death itself. At one point I used to be one of those individuals, and now I have reached the point where I really enjoy public speaking and actually go out of my way to do it. This article will discuss a few useful points derived from “The Presentations Kit” and how you can go from dreading to anticipating public speaking engagements.
“The Presentations Kit” is packed with useful tips on public speaking and treated the topic very systematically and scientifically. It basically covered everything from controlling one’s environment, food and drink intake, poise, intonation, speaking pace, and many, many other variables under a public speaker’s control that are often overlooked. Although useful, I had mastered these aspects many years ago, mainly through trial by fire, and by getting to know myself. There were a few new skills that I had learned from this book. In particular two important points that I believe every public speaker should know about are the concepts of modalities and the five arts, both of which I will discuss in greater detail.
I had come across the concept of modalities in the past, mainly in the form of auditory and visual modalities. As a brief refresher, an auditory person gains much of their information about the world from listening. They have a knack of hearing detailed instructions and general information, comprehending, and retaining said information. They prefer listening over seeing the equivalent information. They are the type of person that after viewing a presentation will ask for it to be explained in greater detail if sufficient verbal discussion was not originally provided.
Conversely, a visual person prefers their information in visual format. They draw pictures, diagrams, and would rather receive instructions in written form, such as e-mail when compared to an audible explanation. A visual person likely has pen & paper handy and their office has at least one white board for diagramming or making lists.
When giving a presentation I would strive to accommodate both types of modalities. I would use tools such as Keynote to visually present the information (however not use it as a crutch), while at the same time giving a thorough audible description of the information. Consistently barraging a visual person with the spoken word, or vice versa is no more effective than consistently speaking English to a person who does not speak the language. Eventually the recipient of the information may acquiesce, but it will only be to remove themselves form the uncomfortable situation.
It cannot be emphasized enough the importance of matching the correct form of delivery to the receiver’s natural modality. As an employee I had at least one situation where I had worked for someone who did not understand this concept – it was painful. Of course I had adapted, as one must do if they wish to maintain their employment and eventually excel, however the situation was far from ideal. I urge you to consider your delivery either as a public speaker, employer, businessperson, or just as an ordinary individual interacting with others, to know your audience.
There was a third type that was identified in “The Presentations Kit” that I had not considered – the kinesthetic modality. This is the person that learns by doing. Not content by sitting in a classroom, watching and listening, they would prefer to accomplish the task themselves rather than have it explained. Muscle memory will serve as a much stronger tool for recollection when compared to a verbal lecture or written word for this individual. This type of person is fidgety in a classroom or meeting and is often compelled to take frequent breaks due to boredom.
Personally my natural learning modalities are in the following order – kinesthetic, visual, and auditory. After reading this book my earlier life experience began to make sense. I was often the type who would become bored in class and very fidgety. I am definitely the learn by doing person. However over the years I have adapted and can effectively use all three, however there is compensation involved in that it takes effort to make the other two work as effective as my natural kinesthetic ability, it does not come naturally. The public education system in the United States does not account for the different forms of learning, or it had not when I had attended, however when I had effectively taken control of my own learning it no longer mattered.
This is what I would ask you to do. Consider your modality and adjust your learning accordingly. Once you accomplish this it will make learning much more fun, and my assumption is that you will join the ranks of life-long learners and thirst for more knowledge. Next, take notice of those around you – what are their modalities? It may not be as simple as asking the question of others – they may not be aware of the concept – actually it is likely that most are unaware. Just notice the way they interact with the world – do they gravitate more towards visual, audio, or kinesthetic cues? This may take some practice but after awhile it will become second nature.
Finally, when you are asked to give a speech or presentation, consider the modalities of your audience – whether the size of the audience is 1, 10, 100, or 1,000 it does not matter. Try to equally mix something in there for all three modalities, this becomes increasingly important as the size of your audience grows. As with the former suggestion this will take some practice, however it too will become second nature over time.
More Art Than Science
While progressing through “The Presentations Kit” I was becoming increasingly worried about the nature of the content. Earlier I had mentioned that there was great advice that was explained in a systematic and scientific manner – which is great for laying a foundation of public speaking. Some of the information is dated as the revised edition was published over ten years ago – but this aspect was limited to the technology aspect of the book. Many of the detailed tips are timeless and can just as easily be applied today.
However there is more to public speaking than crossing off the details – a large part of public speaking is an art form that is difficult to quantify. Those who can master the art aspect of giving presentations are what separate the stellar performers from the mediocre. My choice of the word “performer” is purposeful in that when speaking to an audience, one is literally giving a performance. This performance should be meaningful, contain the technical details to be delivered in the content, however it should be done so with style. The style should be personal to you as to capitalize on your strengths and showcase your individuality, but should also be adjusted to the audience. For example, one should not use the same performing style when presenting to two different crowds if one audience is a group of artists, and the other a group of scientists – it just would not fly.
By the conclusion of the book I was pleasantly surprised that there is one whole chapter dedicated to the “art” aspect of public speaking, which provides some great information. Claudyne Wilder identifies five arts to presenting which I have found to be accurate and of great importance:
1. Use Your Humor
2. Be Yourself
5. Find Your Passion
I will discuss each in greater detail including information that I have found helpful in my experience:
1. Use Your Humor - People love humor, however it needs to be appropriate. Know your audience and tailor your humor accordingly. If in doubt err on the side of caution – recovery from offending someone is a difficult task, you should try to avoid this situation if at all possible.
2. Be Yourself – Someone has invited you to speak for a reason, but most people forget this and become unintentionally inauthentic on the day of the event. Do not be fake or overly professional – just be yourself. Of course as with the other “arts” you should know your audience and tailor your approach to suit them, at least partially. Dry presentations are a bore – be yourself and relax.
3. Perseverance – This goes hand-in-hand with what I have mentioned in this blog in the past – “passion and persistence” are necessary ingredients for success – especially for the entrepreneur. Persevere and you will ultimately succeed. For example, if you make a mistake just push on through without missing a beat – people will respect you for this. You are your own worst critic, and in general you remember your own mistakes much longer than others do. People do not care that much about you to clutch to your mistakes for long periods of time.
4. Personalize – Along with being yourself you should personalize your presentation with information about yourself and if possible – people in the audience. Two words of caution, do not overdo it, nobody likes a braggart and will avoid one at all cost. Second, do not put someone on the spot, personalization should be positive in nature. Always attempt to lift the audience up – remember, “a rising tide lifts all boats”.
5. Find Your Passion – This goes hand in hand with perseverance. Passion fuels perseverance and persistence. Do what you love and you will never work another day in your life – the same goes for public speaking. If you have a passion for your topic you will love talking about it – and that will shine through!
Considering and implementing these five arts will make a big difference in your public speaking skills. It will differentiate you from the crowd. Coupled with great technical content, refining the “art” of public speaking will have people going out of their way to hear what you have to say. Think about those who you have heard speak in the past and you will realize this is true.
One last point I would like to make, but this may not be for everyone. My recommendation is that regardless of where you are in both the “science” and “art” aspects of presenting you just need to get out there and start volunteering for public speaking opportunities. You can find these opportunities in a variety of forms. Personally, I had gone out of my way to lead meetings that required the presentation of information in a public setting – when I was a corporate employee. Later I had taken academic courses and had the chance to give speeches quite a bit in both undergraduate and business school.
If these opportunities are not available to you then seek out other groups such as Toastmasters or volunteer to groups that will allow you to give talks. I have not been to a Toastmaster’s meeting, however I have heard of individuals having great success there. Regardless of your skill level the simple act of you getting up in front of people and talking will increase your skill. For the bare bones beginner, the first few times may be a train wreck and you may embarrass yourself, however as I had mentioned earlier, you are your own worst critic. Short term pain generally leads to long term gain. The more you push yourself and take advantage of these sort of opportunities the better you will become, and it will happen fast! Take a chance – step up at each opportunity to refine your public speaking skills! You may be embarrassed in the short term but will not regret this in the long term.
Truly skilled presenters treat public speaking as an art rather than a science!