Do you love public speaking? Is the first feeling you get after hearing that you’ll be giving a speech best described as “joyful exuberance?” Congratulations! That’s great. Unfortunately, most people feel quite differently. That’s why TruScribe wants to impart some tips to make sure preparing for your speech or presentation is a calm, straightforward experience.
Let’s start with the content itself. In this section, you’ll notice a bit of overlap with our blog post and accompanying videos on writing for voiceover—be sure to check those out for important insights. After all, public speaking isn’t far off of writing voiceover (for yourself). So, where do you start?
It Always Starts with Audience
First and always, start by thinking about your audience. Will it be fairly homogenous—all engineers, say? Or will you be presenting in front of all sorts of people, without a unifying background? These questions should hopefully help you evaluate your content’s specificity, how much explanation will be required for your core concepts, and so forth.
Our recommendation is to write your first draft, without thinking too much about it. Now, show it to someone that has limited or no knowledge of the topic. Ideally, read it to them, as this can be your first check on word choice and how easy our text is to read aloud—more on that later.
Take note of where and when you lost your listening partner. These are the times where your explanations were insufficient, or confusing. If you can’t find someone to read with, for whatever reason, don’t worry. You can actually be your own sounding board. How? Substitute another word for the one you’re explaining.
Consider a word from a different language, like “flugzeug.” It means airplane in German, but it’s not the meaning that’s useful—it’s the strangeness. The best words will come from languages you don’t speak, or ones you make up. It just needs to stand out enough to make you think: If this was the word that my speech was about, how well did I explain it?
Similar question: how often did you use that keyword (or idea, or concept, etc.)? The answer should be something on the order of “frequently.” Don’t ever be afraid to lean into your core concepts, even if it feels like you’re saying a keyword a lot.
Keeping Core Concepts Consistent
Spending time on core concepts drives up retention rates in a spoken presentation, and the risk of audience disengagement is low. Yes, you can overuse a word, but it’ll take a lot to drive down audience focus through repetition. This is why songs have choruses. The alternative—barely mentioning your big idea—won’t let your audience retain your content, because they just haven’t heard it enough.
To hammer that home: what if I told you the key message of this post was anxiety around public speaking? I touched on it, after all—but briefly, and only once, and in the context of introducing presentation improvement. As a presenter (or writer, in this case), I should expect you to retain the anxiety concept as part of the point, but definitely not the ultimate message.
Okay, let’s turn away from content and talk about structure. The sequence of your sentences, and even the sequence of words inside your sentences, matter a lot to the audience’s ability to follow your messaging. See the following:
A: Jaws was a better movie than Star Wars.
B: Steven Spielberg directed Jaws, while George Lucas directed Star Wars.
C: Jaws has more to teach us about the human condition than Star Wars.
What, really, is the point here? Probably sentence A, which has sentence C to support the assertion. So why is sentence B there? It’s a near-non sequitur, and doesn’t add to either of the sentences that bracket it. It probably won’t destroy your speech, but it could be much stronger.
By mapping sentences according to the big idea expressed in each, you can ensure that there’s a logical flow between them. If the big idea in this example is a comparison of two movies, that second sentence just doesn’t fit in the middle. You can even tie this idea to a logical syllogism: A is your major premise, and C is your minor premise. B does not fit… yet, at least. Save it, or use it earlier. Your strongest structure is B, A, C, or A, C, B.
Choose Your Words Carefully
When it comes to word choice, writing for a speech and/or presentation is not the same as writing for a blog post or a technical paper. For one, if this was a speech, I probably would’ve avoided the “and/or” construction I just used. That’s because the best speeches and presentations should be easy to read, not just on the page, but aloud. That easiness comes from writing the way that you speak.
This doesn’t mean including a ton of slang, and it certainly doesn’t mean using risky or offensive material. It just means using words you’d use in everyday conversation, whenever possible. If your concept is complex, this is especially important, because you’ll want a normal address to offset those highly complicated moments.
Go Slow and Tell a Story
You’ll also want to tell at least one story to secure your audience’s attention. As our human coding language, stories are naturally appealing ways to sort and retain information. They’re also fun. Check out our post on the power of storytelling and its effectiveness in generating engagement for more on why you won’t want to skip this step.
Lastly, the moment of truth: reading your speech. Go slow. Trying to race through your content can make you stumble over words, and problematize your audience’s ability to retain your message.
Of course, it’s unlikely that you’ll deliver every sentence perfectly (almost nobody does), so when that slip-up happens, try to laugh about it. Make a joke, even a dumb one, and you’ll notice the audience laughing with you. The speech isn’t ruined. Take a breath and continue. Audience research, practice reading, robust inclusion of key terms, and attention to structure: with these efforts in place, you’re well on your way to a strong presentation!