Writing, speaking and writing more

speaker art

I enjoy writing, and thank goodness I do because that’s how I make my living today. I’m grateful to be working with wonderful clients on challenging assignments, and I’m always learning new things.

I also enjoy working with speakers on their presentations. This gets at my “roots” in terms of education and experience. I was a debater in high school and college, and then went on to pursue a Master of Arts in speech communication. In graduate school at the University of Arizona, I taught public speaking classes as a graduate teaching assistant, and coached debaters on the debate team. We traveled to tournaments at universities throughout the western U.S., including California, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, all by car, from Tucson. (This is undoubtedly why I relish being by myself in a car today, listening to music I enjoy, or just spending quiet time).

Following graduate school I entered the world of health care marketing and public relations, an amazing (yet unexpected) career path that allowed me to leverage my communications skills. I believe my communications background helped me absorb the fundamentals of marketing in a distinctive way. From a communications perspective, health care marketing functions including relationship-building, promotion, increasing awareness, patient acquisition — they all made sense to me. Learning all I could about marketing and public relations was invigorating. I continued to teach public speaking on a part-time basis at area colleges and universities.

Regardless of the setting — the classroom or the boardroom — good communication skills are vital. When you’re asked to speak in front of a group, how do you feel? How do you get started working on your presentation? Here are a few of my best tips on becoming a more effective public speaker.

  1. It’s all about the audience. Who are they? Why are they listening to you? Audience members will be asking themselves “What’s in it for me?” In other words, why is what you have to say so important? Before preparing your speech, answer this question first. That should lay the groundwork for organizing your main points.
  2. Begin with the end in mind. Consider this: at the end of your presentation, what is the most important thing you’d like your audience to remember? Is there some action you’d like them to take? Working “backwards” from your conclusion should help you develop the main points of your speech to support your conclusion/call to action.
  3. Speak in terms your audience can understand. This should make perfect sense if you’ve followed the first point outlined here. As a speaker, you don’t get “extra points” or increase your credibility by using jargon (the specialized language of a professional, occupational, or other group, often meaningless to outsiders). “Cognitive dissonance,” for example, might be understood by psychology-savvy listeners or communication theorists, but at the very least, if it’s necessary to use words likely to be unfamiliar to your audience, define those terms.
  4. Visual aids should complement what you have to say, not “replace” you.  For any presenter, visuals shouldn’t become the speech. A speaker should command an audience’s attention, not a bunch of busy slides with special effects that make listeners dizzy. More isn’t always better. I don’t have a problem with visual aids, just how they’re used. Another tip: if all you’re going to do is throw up a bunch of slides and read them out loud one by one, then why are you there as a “speaker?” Just make hard copies of your presentation (or give me a link to the presentation online). There’s no need for me to listen to you. I can read your “speech” later. Good presenters engage audiences by connecting with them verbally and visually, adding information, providing examples, and relating stories that illustrate or amplify key ideas that may be depicted visually.

Now back to writing. In the past week, three people who know I’m a “corporate” writer have asked me if I’ve ever thought about writing a novel or short story. That’s next on my list.

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