Jerry Seinfeld once joked, because the fear of public speaking outranks even that of death, the average person attending a funeral would rather be “the guy in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Put to you this way, you’d probably want to get over your fear of public speaking (if you have one) in a hurry. This is particularly true in the workplace where public speaking is frequently part of office life. For some people, the thought of leading meetings or making formal presentations can be terrifying. Some are so terrified their muscles tighten and throats gets so dry they can hardly speak when just having to introduce themselves to a group of their peers around the boardroom table.
So it really doesn’t surprise me when corporate clients are more concerned about their staff’s presentation skills than about their writing abilities. I remember talking with the president of an executive’s networking organization. He told me that many of the executives he deals with are more concerned about looking good when they present than they are about their writing.
But in the “strange but true” department, I firmly believe that anyone wanting to improve their public speaking abilities needs to understand: good public speaking depends on writing. If you think that public speaking is all about the well-timed joke, the confident delivery and the ability to conceal the fact that sweat is trickling down your midriff- think again! Sure, these traits are an important part of a successful public speaker’s tool kit, (antiperspirant too, perhaps!), but there’s more to it than that.
Sweat aside, some of that confidence and timing stems from writing, as I know from recent personal experience. In December I appeared as a panelist talking about why you should avoid using business jargon, on Howard Green’s Headline on the Business News Network.
Once I was well acquainted with the topic, I began mulling over what I wanted to say. But just thinking about it wasn’t enough to help clarify my ideas. I needed to sit down at my computer, organize and write down my thoughts before rehearsing out loud. I found that writing out the ideas gave me clarity and focus about what I wanted to say and the order I’d ideally like to say it in. (I say “ideally” because of course on a TV panel you can’t entirely control the flow of things.) But the written preparation was key to my successful TV appearance.
The fact is, for most people good public speaking starts with good writing. I don’t necessarily mean writing everything out in carefully constructed sentences either. Notes can work just fine. In this context, good writing is about organizing your thoughts.
So here are a few things to write down when you prepare for almost any kind of public speaking.
1. The Hook: Start with a good hook, whether it’s a powerful anecdote or some compelling information. Write down a few options; use the one with the strongest hook.
2. The Key Points: Write down your key points. Make sure you can articulate them clearly. If you find using notes isn’t enough to enable you to get your ideas across clearly, write out your key points in full sentences.
3. The Sequence: Make sure your ideas are logically sequenced with a good flow from beginning to end. Jumping around will make it difficult for your audience to follow. (Just think of all those wedding speeches you’ve had to sit through where this is so true!)
4. The Language: Is the language you’re using appropriate for your intended audience? Unless you’re Jerry Seinfeld, you want to be very careful with your choice of words and tone, especially if you’re delivering a eulogy.
The interesting thing is, most people say when they write something down, they remember it more easily. So why wouldn’t you take the writing as seriously as being able to look out at a crowd without having your knees knocking?
No matter how great your eye contact, no matter how well your gestures underscore the points you want to make, if your ideas are not delivered in a clear, articulate, logical fashion, you won’t achieve that success you’re aiming for. And careful written preparation is what makes it more likely.
Bonus: Preparing in writing might even help with that nervous perspiration problem!
Send us your public speaking tips and we’ll share them. I look forward to receiving them.