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Knees turn into noodles ?
Mar 07, 2006 09:46 PM 6303 Views
(Updated Mar 07, 2006 10:15 PM)

Yes - Thats how I would describe my first experiences of public speaking.


As an engineer/programmer I didn't really have to worry about my speaking skills, but as I stepped into the world of MBAs at an american university, I knew that one thing that I wasn't prepared enough for was - Speaking in front of an audience.


During my first business communication class, I felt everyone else was better than me. Though being fluent in English - I had that inherent fear of muddling up in the middle of a speech and worst - to forget what I had prepared for. Knees turn into noodles?


Been there. Seen it all.


Now, trust me - public speaking isn't all that difficult to master, but one needs to really put in some effort in the beginning. There are absolutely no shortcuts. Nowadays people tell me that I'm a'natural-speaker', but hell no - they don't know the whole story.


I remember the first big speech I was supposed to make. I had put in a lot of research on the subject I was going to make the speech on. Spent time on understanding the audience and also prepared for answering expected questions. But, like most others I spent way too much time preparing for the material and very little time actually practising the entire speech from start to finish.


When speaking in front of an audience, the main concern should be to involve the audience and make sure they listen and understand, rather than come across as a great mind who knows his/her stuff but cannot communicate it across to the audience.


The result was - First, I had crossed my time limit, Second- the audience felt that too much has been thrown at them(and of course they didnt retain anything), and Third - they were bored stiff.


I hadn't fumbled as I had feared, primarily because I knew my stuff well. But how did that matter- people didn't understand a thing.


I knew my mistakes. Next was to make sure I never made them again.


To make an effective speech - the first thing you need to do is to prepare an outline.


Keep it simple- jot down the main ideas into simple bold statements. People remember a simple effective line better.


Second - if you have a conclusion at the end then extract the path to reach there- starting from A to B, B to C, till finally to the end. But don't make them too confusing.


After you have spend about an hour on how to present the material - mentally prepare the sentences you are going to speak. As a beginner you might have to actually memorise the sentences a little bit, but for the second speech you make - do not memorise the sentences - just memorise the main ideas.


Coherence is equally important as simplicity - The speech should flow. For example if you are speaking on computer memory architecture  with the help of a powerpoint presentation- Dont start with how many types of memories are there, how fast is each one and then move on to the basic computer architecture - i.e the locations of CPU, memory etc. Start with a simple figure showing the CPU, memory and the memory buses, and THEN tell them where each memory(disk, RAM etc) is located and their speeds.


Then - the most important part - the delivery.


As a declared pro in this field - let me tell you - for my first few speeches I spent an hour standing in an empty hall(imagining there were people in the audience) and practised from start to finish. Even before that did I count the number of times I had practised at home. If it counts less than 4 then you aren't prepared enough - not the first time at least.


Hand gestures and body language are important as is eye-contact. Move your eyes over to the entire room, don't just look at one part of the audience, read from the screen or worst - stare at the ceiling. Crack a relevant joke or tell a smallish related story. Never put hands in your pockets. Maybe you could do it if you were the CEO, but you are not.


Look relaxed and the audienced will be attentive and listen to you. Look nervous and hell- they will only feel sorry for you.


The road that follows is easier - Once I had perfected my skills, I needed lesser and lesser time to prepare. But in any case - at least 3 times from start to finish is my suggestion.


Speaking skills are very important and should not be underestimated. Many a times while interviewing for a job this becomes'the discriminating criteria' between two top contenders.  And once you learn the tricks, you'll never forget them- like swimming.  Get ready and go for it. And enjoy the compliments that come pouring in.


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