Preparing Your Speech
The key to successful presentation is preparation which needs research and structure. But how do you start?
Let’s suppose you are a careers officer and have been asked to give a talk on Choosing a career at a local school. Your audience will be composed of 15 and 16 year old kids who may (or may not) be interested in their future career. You will have already thought through what the needs of that audience are – to be stimulated, entertained, enlightened and given some specific information and help as well.
In front of you may be a blank sheet of paper. You start jotting down some category headings, school subjects, parent’s’ influence, opportunities, and so on and then you reach a mental block. How on earth can you make this sound stimulating?
Original ideas and unusual approaches come from the random connection of thoughts. The brain does not work in a logical pattern if you start by writing an outline then you are imposing order before you have had a chance to generate ideas. Imagine your brain as a growing tree. It doesn’t develop in a linear fashion branches start sprouting and then other branches and twigs appear and so on. If you use the brainstorming and mind-mapping methods (explained later) then you will learn to think in a more creative way and the ideas will flaw. Then you can start to impose a structure later.
If you are a left brain thinker, logical, scientific and strategic, then you may find the following methods a little strange because you have not been used to using the right side of your brain – the creative, artistic, spatial and random side. Ideally, you should learn to use both sides.
Agatha Christie’s character Miss Marple is an excellent example of a person with perfect balance between the left, logical thinking brain and the right, lateral thinking brain. Unlike the police inspectors, portrayed as slightly
stupid because they take the obvious, logical approach to detection and end up in a blind alley, Miss Marple’s brain operates in a more random way. She operates by making connections between two apparently unrelated observations.
Edward de Bono, famous for his books and lectures on ‘lateral thinking’, suggests this method for getting the brain to work in a creative, lateral way. Take a subject on which you are preparing a a word at random from the dictionary and then try and make a connection between the two, even if it sounds stupid. Let’s now try some brainstorming ourselves.
Brainstorming is a method of generating ideas using free association. Creative teams in advertising agencies often use it to come up with new and original ideas for commercials. It can also be done as a solo activity. Essentially, the principle is to start with a word, say the theme of a talk, and to write down the next idea or word that comes into your head. In group sessions, no comment must be made on the suitability of the word or idea it is simply noted and the next person carries on.
Try it yourself as a solo exercise with the theme word TOURISM. Write down any words or images that you associate with this word. Form a chain, all your words won’t necessarily relate to the original word TOURISM. Even if you seem to be heading in a totally unfamiliar direction and going off the point, follow your thoughts down this channel.
Now try it with the word CAREERS and see what happens. If you find the exercise difficult, then put yourself in a relaxed position and fix your eyes on something. What will happen is that you will begin to put yourself in a semi-trance state which will encourage left brain thinking. It is no coincidence that some of the most original ideas come to people in the daydream state between sleeping and waking.
Mind-mapping was developed in the 1970’s by the academic Tony Buzan and has been widely adopted in study skills manuals. It uses the technique of brainstorming to generate ideas which are then mapped’ on paper.
The idea is to get the two sides of the brain – the logical and creative – to work together to generate ideas. Like a growing tree, the method hinges around seeing how ideas branch off from single themes and connections can be made. It also utilizes both words and pictures. (Pictures are easier to remember.) You will just need a plain piece of paper and several colored pens.
Write your topic in the centre of the page: “CHOOSING A CAREER”.
Now start writing down words which come into your head (or you can draw pictures if you wish) around the page.
“ACADEMIC SUBJECTS PERSONALITY MOTIVATION OPPORTUNITIES UNIVERSITY PARENTS’INFLUENCE SKILLS TESTS” etc.
Go back to each word and write down secondary words which come to mind for each of the keywords. For example, your keyword is PERSONALITY. Your secondary words could be PERSUASIVE, HELPING, INTROVERTED, CONTROLLING, SHY etc. Don’t worry if they don’t seem totally logical at this point.
Now start joining up the keywords or pictures using lines. Stan with lines radically from the central theme “CHOOSING A CAREER“.
Take your different colored pens and underline words which are related in the same color. Alternatively, you can put a number or letter by each word or phrase that falls into the same category.
Try joining up all the words.
What you have been doing is using the right side of the brain initially to generate ideas using free association and then the left side to organize those ideas.
Substitute the word of your own choice, a career with which you are familiar and try the exercise yourself.
Now try the same exercise with the name of a sport, HOCKEY, CRICKET or FOOTBALL for instance. Imagine you are speaking at a club dinner. See what ideas come from the mind-mapping method.
The logic behind this method is that it reproduces the way the brain works. If you could see network of millions of interconnections inside the brain it would look a gigantic telephone exchange.
If you find this method alien. there’s ho need to force yourself to do it. Instead. try some relaxation exercises, and try to develop your own way of generating and ideas.
Sometimes people get mental blocks. It’s the blank piece Of paper syndrome. A Speaker may spend up to 24 hours in total preparing a presentation lasting about three-quarters of an hour. During that time numerous pieces of paper get crumpled and thrown in the bin. What goes wrong?
You may not be in an environment conducive for generating ideas. Take yourself back to the schoolroom hard chairs, uninspiring decoration, sterile atmosphere. No wonder people find it hard to produce good work in those surroundings. You may have come up with your best ideas lying on a sofa listening to Bach or sitting in a train gazing out of the window.
The right side of the brain (the creative side) responds better to certain rhythms. For example, the slow beat of some music, or the chuggerty-chug of a train. Sit yourself in a comfortable position, put on the music and start to dream. You may find that you fall into a semi-trance state where the highly suggestible subconsciousness starts to become active. Try it Another good time to jot down ideas is just before you go to sleep. Put a note pad and pen beside your bed and write down any good ideas that come into your head.
All these methods for generating ideas using both sides of the brain are important when actually delivering the speech. If people in your audience are stimulated into using both sides of their brain and receive a multi-sensory experience, what you say will stay in their memory longer.
Read The Best Speech Guide (Part 1) if you missed it. Or continue Reading The Best Speech Guide (Part 2).