I suggested that the speaker can regain the audience’s attention when they gain control of their own. And the two things they could attend to that would achieve this are time and content. Here’s how to attend to both.
It takes more time to prepare than you think.
A successful speaking engagement is not just about creating your content. Important though it is, your content is less than half the story of a great performance. Effective speaking is about how you deliver that content. If it was just about content, you could email the delegates your script and that would be that.
Before you start preparing, take control by making a plan. Work backwards from when you are due to speak, planning first when you want your words completed and then your slides. Include time to rehearse, repeatedly, aloud. I start rehearsing at least two-weeks before the engagement.
Here’s what happens when you make time to rehearse:
It will give you time to notice what works and what doesn’t. You’ll notice how the words you’ve written sound. And how the content flows as you speak it. You’ll be able to hear yourself and picture your audience. You can start to understand what you would think if you were listening to you.
After a number of run-throughs, you’ll find that you start to become very familiar with your words, and as if by magic, you start to commit them to memory. As you rehearse you’ll start to feel less nervous, which will reduce your nerves and build your confidence when you get to the occasion. You’ll have practiced what you’re going to say and refined it. And you can focus more on your audience, be more able to slow down, take your time and enjoy the experience.
You have less time to speak than you think.
Your allotted time is not just for you to speak. It also includes your pauses between words, meaning you immediately have less time than you think you have. You may also want to pause around your key ideas for your audience to fully absorb them. Again, this is included in your allowance and not extra time. This is why many speakers run over time and end up rushing and apologising at the end.
How to attend to this? I make a long hand script, and rehearse it word for word. And I time myself. Doing this means I can see if I’m running over and if I am, I can cut or re-word something. It also helps me to slow down, by saying less or finding a different way to say it. Doing this will enable you to feel more confident. By knowing that what you are going to say will fit comfortably into the time allocated, you’ll be more in control when it comes to speaking on the day.
What you say needs to be treated before you can speak it.
Your initial content is your raw material. Before it can be shared it needs to be refined, and turned into something speakable. Start with your idea. This is likely to have been generated by your own experience. Whatever your idea, it needs to be mixed with two other sorts of information before it can become what you will say. The first is information around your audience. And the second is information around you.
For example, in relation to your audience, you can ask of your raw material:
What difference will this information make to my audience?
And in relation to you, you can ask:
Why does this raw material matter to me?
Then you can go back to your raw material and start to work on it. You may find that the key point in your idea was originally at the end and by doing this exploration you have brought it front and centre. Exploring your thoughts in response to these questions will start to turn your raw material into something worth speaking about.
When you pay attention to the time you spend preparing your content and rehearsing, you invest in gaining your audience’s attention when it comes to the occasion itself. It’s no wonder speakers get nervous. They hold such a precious opportunity in this age of moment to moment communication. By paying attention to time and content, you will be attending more effectively to your own performance as a speaker and you’ll be earning your audience’s attention as a result.
For a reading list and resources to support you to deliver well at your next speaking engagement, take a look here