Public Speaking As A Means To Enlarge My Vision: Part 1 - Preparing To Give

Posted at 19:01pm on 5th July 2009

Public speaking for the dedicated communicator is so three dimensional. I give; I receive; I am filled. Or perhaps that should be: I am filled; I give; I receive. Let me explain.

Setting up a keynote address requires a huge effort. Especially if it includes visuals such as a Power Point Presentation. Hours of work go into the talk, with the construction defined by the mantra:

  • Tell your audience what you’re going to tell them
  • Tell them
  • Tell them what you’ve told them


Before you begin, it’s important to remember, during the preparation work, that when giving your talk you are investing in people. This is not simply an academic treatise given to an organisation! So taking the trouble to look at their website or literature is well worth the effort. In doing so, you will discover the character and purpose of the people to whom you will be speaking. And referring to some aspect of their work will show them that you’ve done your homework. Your audience will appreciate your interest, particularly if you are able to personalise what you have to say.

I, for instance, was speaking recently to the Salvation Army’s national conference for leaders. Being able to quote back to them my (genuine) admiration - for the vision of social care and concern that they have taken onto the streets and into the community - helped to forge a bond between us. When I then added to that the true story of a friend, who experienced a factory fire at his works, and was incredibly impressed by the speed and commitment of the Army’s support during the time it took for the fire to be extinguished, those ties between speaker and audience were strengthened.

Once the talk is written, there are then the graphics to be chosen and the slides to be designed. How to give a good Power Point Presentation is a subject in its own right, so I’ll reserve that for another occasion. Suffice to say here, that the slides, animation and photographs should not vie for attention with what you have to say, but should back-up and enhance the topic and content of the talk. They play a supporting role.


Because I was the Keynote Speaker at the Generate conference, the topic was chosen for me by the organisers: Enlarge My Vision. It would set the theme for the entire weekend. Based on Jabez Prayer in 1 Chronicles, it was to be delivered on the Friday evening, only hours after the delegates arrived, and immediately after dinner.

Given that many of the 90+ visitors had undertaken mammoth journeys – some from as far away as the Isle of Mann, Cornwall, and the Highlands of Scotland – and that torrential rain and road traffic accidents had caused delays, I was, initially, dismayed by the timing of this slot. To counter this, I raised awareness of it. Telling my audience, tongue in cheek, that I suspected that there might be some post prandial sleepiness, I began by making them promise that if that were the case, they would prod me to waken me up. It raised a laugh.


Jokes for public speaking – on a par with those for stand-up comedians - are widely available to be used as simple ice breakers. However, you need the skill to deliver them with confidence and wit or they risk falling flat. Knowing that a little humour goes a long way to putting everyone at ease, I build something more personal into my preparation. It works both ways. Your audience softens towards you which, in turn, helps you to relax and put yourself over in a more engaging manner. And I’ve discovered, over the years, that there is nothing I enjoy more than being able to inject some fun into the proceedings on an ad lib basis!

Now this surprises me! Years ago, when I was a novice, my fear of speaking in public made my knees knock, my hands shake and my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth. Nowadays, when the group who have invited me to speak ask if I am nervous, I have to say No! Sometimes they can be so persistent in respect of my imagined fears of public speaking, that I almost wonder if there is something wrong with me.

After all, as an Introvert I find it incredibly difficult and uncomfortable to stand and address a meeting, uninvited. Even my own Church meeting! Then it came to me. In social situations, we Introverts have a subconscious tendency to rehearse what we’re saying before we say it, when it involves speaking to more than one or two people. And one of our greatest fears is that listeners will either turn away or interrupt before we finish what we have to say. But both those scenarios are covered when you’re an invited Speaker: you’ve prepared and rehearsed what you have to say; and your audience has come specifically to hear what you have to say. Quite literally, you have the floor!


This is not to say, however, that being The Speaker is not draining. Fears of public speaking are quite different to the fear of speaking in public. The former is undertaken from an elevated position to an audience; the latter in a position of equality in a social context.

In Christian groups, mostly, you’ll find that people will pray with you beforehand: for you; for the message you have to deliver; and for the receptiveness of your audience. But there are still the practical concerns of finding your way around the venue (I thought I knew The Hayes at Swanwick from years of attending the Writers’ Summer School, but a rebuilding project left me totally confused). Often, either the person who has invited you to be the speaker, or someone else if she is too busy, will nursemaid you – at least until you settle in. If not, you may have to run the gauntlet of the dining hall alone, deciding where to sit and with whom.


And then there’s the fact of being ‘on duty’ at all times as if you were in a position of leadership when, in fact, both conference leaders and delegates are complete strangers to you, and you are probably the only person there who knows no one. In my experience, the sense of loneliness and isolation that this induces doesn’t last too long. Although as an Introvert social intercourse is not my natural bent, in psychometric terms I am also a strong Feeling Type. Consequently, self-concern is quickly replaced by concern for others. And because I build a fair bit of personal experience into my talks in order to highlight a point, I find that people tend to open up to me in a way that they might not, otherwise, have done.

Secrets are divulged to a speaker precisely because he or she is a stranger. The person unburdening herself feels none of the vulnerability of revealing all to someone she knows, and sees frequently. She trusts that her revelation will be safe with you (and it goes without saying that you owe her the utmost confidentiality) and she believes that, even if you do judge her negatively, she will, most likely, never have to meet with you again, nor see your criticism develop.


I am naturally tactile and demonstrative. Without thinking, I reach out to squeeze a hand, touch an arm, extend my own for a hug. There are those who have told me that this may not always be appropriate. To them I would say that there has never been an occasion when I have been rebuffed. On the contrary. Stroking – figuratively and physically – is a basic human need. And when the tears fall, mine mingling with those of the one confiding in me, it’s as if a Divine healing takes place. A sense of – not we two – but we three.

So having given – in my preparation, in overcoming my fears and inhibitions, in the verbal sharing of my faults and frailties - I find myself, not fragile, but fulfilled. It is in giving that we receive. And in receiving that we are filled.

Do add your comments. Have you found this article helpful for a speaking project in which you're involved? Or has it taught you something in respect of being a conference organiser? Or a delegate, attending a conference? Remember, whatever you have to share will be of help to others.

Related posts: Public Speaking As A Means To Enlarge My Vision: Part 2 Receiving

Author of a number of books, one a No. 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV.


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