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Writing and executing the dreaded talk

Writing and executing the dreaded talk

The passion and presence Barack Obama channelled in his inauguration speech was something that I always thought would be great for anyone to channel even if it comes across with the preparation that King George VI played by Colin Firth in the King's Speech. I for one like many have really struggled with giving talks, having had to give talks earlier on in life just meant I stumbled through with no real direction outside of what I was learning through trial and error.

I thought I would share a few tools I picked up the hard way to hopefully ensure that your pathway to giving compelling talks is less arduous than mine.

This article will hopefully give you a few points on

  • Knowing yourself and your audience

  • Planning for the talk

  • Practising the talk

  • Managing pre-speech jitters/anxiety

  • Self-criticism and how it can help and hinder confidence

The best advice I ever received on giving talks was from a successful sales leader who was known to be a prolific closer who I was helping with a big multi-million pound pitch. To calm my nerves as a fresh-faced graduate the words You know more than the audience and can choose what to tell the audience” felt like the words from a gospel which I was yearning for during the multiple times of previous talk/presentation failure.

If you re-read the sentence it should ring true, think back to when you had to write 500 words for a submission of any kind and then try and recite what you wrote you omitted things that you knew and you choose not to tell the reader so why should a speech be any different?

However controlling the narrative is nothing without controlling the story, think back to the heyday of Steve Jobs - his storytelling lead the narrative (functionality in his case) not the other way around. I still fondly remember his storytelling abilities coming to life when showing the iPhone 3G’s capabilities around something we take for granted today which was the flow: Searching maps > Phoning Starbucks and pretending to order coffee for the entire audience. 

The only medium I have found that ever worked was outlining a talk like I would a story, almost thinking of how John Grisham would give a talk outlining his famous book ‘The firm’ -> How would he be able to capture the same descriptive detail and motives in a presentation. If you reflect on how successful/captivating presentations are made they often follow the same format as a book, so working backwards it's worth us looking into how a book is written to use this as a use case for a presentation.

Hopefully, the wikihow image above should kind of quickly resonate. If you take the Apple iPhone 3G launch as an example, the climax of the apple iPhone release was the search > maps > call Starbucks but the result / ah-ha / wow moment was in the ease of his storytelling, you were left thinking you "why haven't I expected this from a phone before?"

To help transfer the merits of executing a talk like writing a book, I have put together the following template

The template is intended to complement the pre-requisite work outlined in the 'Introverts guide to speech and presentations'. The warm up exercises are the elevator pitch -> essentially helping you hone what you picked up from the 'Workbook: The introverts guide to speech making' and warming up yourself to writing the story that you want to communicate to your audience

The 3 key takeaways are the guiding points to your presentation, if you look back at the first iPhone release presentation you will remember that whilst the phone was feature backed Jobs wanted us to remember he is getting rid of the phone, mp3 player and effectively small internet communicator like the palm pilot and replacing it with 1 gadget that does all of that.

The story is the prep work / the content of what you want to present, like any good story it should have a starting point (some context), the main chapters and a conclusion. In the workbook, I have used the example that you are pitching a new tablet to the procurement team of an organisation looking to procure the tablet initially for their SMT before potentially rolling it out to their field agents (which is the wider opportunity).

Last but perhaps the most important point of the workbook is preparation. The ruthless editor should hopefully allow oneself to have an external view of your own work whilst the setup should identify key elements to your success and outline anything you need to plan for to make your presentation successful (e.g. if you need wifi for a demo, its worth checking the connectivity/speed/lag time before the day of the presentation and on the day to ensure that it doesn't cause issues on the day). One thing to note here the key thing about the ruthless editor is to self-reflect on areas of your speech you can improve on -> e.g. it could be that you need to re-write a chapter to align it to your 3 key takeaways. The ruthless editor is meant to provide constructive criticism, not disparaging remarks which may affect one's confidence as you will need a certain level of confidence to give a compelling speech.

The final piece to leave you with is Practice Practice Practice, if you don't think Jobs needed practice a simple google or YouTube search will find you plenty of videos outlining how he practised the presentations and how seriously he took presentations. Think back to the best films/plays or even commencement speeches, the presenter or actor is performing based on years of practice. For the film buffs out there google your favourite actor or actress and try and watch some of their early films, you can almost see them going through their own training to better their craft as showcased in their later films. Practice also helps pre-speech anxiety, in the same way, a professional athlete often practices harder in training to ensure that they are more than capable on match day.

Good luck and as always please let me know if you have any feedback or ideas on how the template can be improved.

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