One of the simplest ways to learn how to improve your speaking is to watch others, analyse what works and what doesn’t, and choose to use the effective aspects in your own speaking.
It’s usual to go to a presentation and simply listen to the message. Well, I guess that’s what we’re there for!
However, every presentation you attend is also a wonderful opportunity to learn how to improve your own speaking.
Observe what the speaker does, listen to the way they speak, see what they do to get their message across. What works well? Consider using those strategies in your own speaking. What didn’t work well? Avoid using those in your speaking.
A while ago the Minister of Education came to my son’s school to open a new classroom building there. Every aspect of his presentation - the way he arrived at the school; the clothes he wore; the rapport he had with the group; the research he had done beforehand; the well crafted presentation; the appropriate gifts he had brought - made for an extremely effective presentation.
As I listened to his speech I was impressed with the array of speaking techniques he used.
I looked around to see if others were noticing his techniques and were feeling equally impressed. It didn’t seem so; they were avidly listening to his message and taking it all in. The sign of a great presentation!
There were many learning points people could have gained from that one presentation if they had been listening in order to analyse it.
Most presentations won’t offer as many learning points as that one, but most presentations will offer learning points. Even presentations we would deem as less effective can provide us with useful learning, as we can analyse what made them less effective and choose not to use those aspects in our own speaking.
What are some of the points we can look out for?
Below is a list. You may not have enough time to analyse them all in one presentation, but you can look out for them over a number of presentations.
Structure Was it easy to follow? Were the ideas presented in a meaningful sequence?
Opening How well did the opening draw the group to the subject? Did the initial words or actions get people’s attention?
Topic What was the topic? Was this explained early on? Was it explained clearly?
Body Did the session have substance? Why?
What did it have to aid understanding? e.g. examples, anecdotes, visuals.
Were there good handouts?
Ending How did the session end? Was there a summary / recap / link back to the beginning in order to round off? Were there clear action steps to take? Did they leave time for questions? Was the speaker well prepared for the questions?
Maintaining audience interest Did the speaker use a variety of techniques to maintain interest? For example: change of pace; change of style; change of platform position; group involvement
Visual Was there visual impact? Did the speaker look confident and competent?
Did they use props or materials? Did they use them confidently?
Vocal How was the vocal aspect? Did the speaker sound confident? Enthusiastic? Could the group hear what was said? Was there variety of voice: pitch / pace / volume / tone? Were there pauses? Were there ‘ums’ and ‘ers’? Did they detract from the message?
Verbal How was the verbal aspect? Did the speaker show knowledge of the subject?
Was the content interesting? Was the language appropriate for the audience? Was the language easy to follow? Was jargon used? Was it appropriate?
Connection Was a connection made with the audience? If so, how? If not, what was missing?
Purpose What was the overall purpose - what was the speaker aiming to do? Did they achieve it? Was there a strong message? Was it relevant to the needs / interest of audience?