Accomplished public speakers know that just a few enduring principles govern the key to success. Based on scientific evidence and years of careful observation of highly successful public speakers, James O'Rourke has gathered 51 basic truths about confident presenting, organized into ten easily mastered categories in 'The Truth about Confident Presenting'. Current relevant examples and specific instructions on how to apply these truths form the centrepiece of each brief chapter. Everything you need is right here - from audience research to topic selection, organization patterns, forms of evidence, principles of persuasion, delivery techniques, nonverbal mannerisms, anxiety and event management.
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About the Author
James S. O’Rourke IV, teaching professor of management and the Arthur F. and Mary J. O’Neil Director of the Eugene D. Fanning Center for Business Communication at the University of Notre Dame, USA, is a widely regarded consultant among ‘Fortune 500’ companies in the United States and around the world.
Read an Excerpt
Public speaking is not easy, but it's certainly doable
If you've ever had to make a presentation, you know the anxiety that comes with speaking in public. Even experienced speakers can feel flustered, sweaty, anxious and apprehensive. That's a perfectly natural reaction to a threatening situation. And when you know you're being evaluated, you feel even more threatened. Your perception of a threat causes you to release adrenal fluids, dilate your pupils, tense your muscles, and provokes a "fight or flight" response.
You understand the consequences of not doing well, of failing to impress an audience or not coming through for a client when it really matters. You know all too well what can go wrong.
Good public speakers tend to focus on what can go right. They concentrate on the positive aspects of their message and how it can benefit their audience. Once they detect a positive response from their listeners, that perception serves to reinforce a sense of self-confidence, reassurance and belief that they can do this.
The fact is, public speaking is a learned skill. It's not something you're born with or that comes naturally. You're certainly born with the propensity to speak and gesture, but given the short range of the human voice, those skills are clearly intended for interpersonal or small-group settings. Speaking to a larger audience is a skill that must be learned, rehearsed and reinforced through repeated opportunities.
Keep this in mind: Very few small children are great public speakers. So how do young managers (and others) get to be so good at presenting complex information to an audience that has little interest or motivation in learning? More to the point, how do they get the audience to act on the message being shared? The answer, in part, lies in the response to the classic New York pedestrian's question, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" The response? "Practice, practice, practice."
People with very little natural ability as a child have become 1 exceptional public speakers by the time they reach their twenties and thirties. Great orators, politicians and business leaders develop professional speaking skills by analyzing both their audience and their purpose for speaking. They prepare meticulously and seek out opportunities to present; then they learn what is effective from the audiences' feedback.
Every speaker who is honest with you will admit to being anxious or nervous before a presentation. Entertainers and comedians like David Letterman and the late Johnny Carson have talked at length about the anxiety that accompanies a walk onto the stage to perform. There is a subtle difference between them and most speakers-in-training. Experienced presenters use that sense of apprehension to their advantage: they review their notes, they think about what the audience expects of them, they rehearse their opening lines and they internalize the essence of their message. They are, in a word, prepared.
Great speakers may seem to perform with an ease that makes it all look effortless, but the most honest of them will tell you that it didn't come easily. It requires dedication, discipline and a commitment to improve. You can do the same. The moment to begin is now.CHAPTER 2
The key to success is preparation
Effective preparation for a presentation involves more than practice, but it's all relatively easy if you take it step-by-step.
In the fourth century BC, the Greek philosopher Aristotle gathered his students around him near the city of Athens and passed along a small bit of wisdom: things will go better during a speech if you're properly prepared. In a collection of his lectures, passed by oral tradition for many years and later written down as his Rhetoric, Aristotle explains that three considerations are particularly important for every speaker: audience, purpose and occasion.
Audience clearly comes first. A presentation is all about them. It doesn't matter what you want. It doesn't matter how interesting, important or powerful you think your message is. All that really matters is what the audience wants. If you can't deliver a presentation that they find interesting, engaging, useful, valuable or worth thinking about, then your audience will ignore you. They may be polite, of course. They may nod, smile and appear to be interested, but deep inside, they're thinking about something else. They're tuned in to their own needs and interests, not yours. You must figure out what they want or need and give it to them. Your reward is their undivided attention and, perhaps, the behavior you're hoping for.
Your purpose matters, as well. Consider these questions: Why are you speaking to this group, on this occasion, about this topic? What's your reason for being here? You may think it's to sell them a product, a concept or an idea. You may have something in mind for the audience to do (or stop doing). But your purpose is subtler than that. You should know what your intended outcome is. Aristotle gives three reasons why a speaker might address an audience: to inform, to persuade, or to inspire. Some presentations call for all three; others focus on just one. What you choose to do depends on the outcome you envision for this particular audience.
Distinguish between informative and persuasive purposes as you prepare. If your purpose is to inform, you can't become an advocate on behalf of one point of view, nor can you gratuitously toss in your 2 opinions along the way. On the other hand, if you hope to influence what the audience believes or does, then figure out not only how to motivate them to care about the subject but also how to offer evidence that they find compelling.
Some years ago, I was an officer in the U.S. Air Force, assigned to a strategic refueling base in eastern Canada. Each week, as the wing staff gathered in the conference room to brief the commander on issues and actions in the organization, we would receive a detailed weather briefing from the wing meteorologist. He always came prepared with charts, graphs and maps, complete with occluded fronts, low-pressure systems and more. He even carried an authoritative-looking collapsible pointer. He told us in exquisite detail what happened yesterday, what was likely to happen in the next 24 to 48 hours and what the five-day prediction would be. No matter how bad the weather was forecast to be (and Labrador was noted for some ferocious storms), he would never direct the commander to relocate the tanker fleet. That wasn't his job. His task was purely informative. He would supply the information the commander and the senior staff required and let them engage in persuasive conversation. Recognizing his proper role in that situation (and making accurate forecasts) kept our young weather officer out of trouble and in the commander's good graces.
Finally, the occasion matters, as well. In addition to knowing who will hear your talk and the purpose for your presentation, it may also be useful for you to know something about the occasion. Many occasions simply call for a polite, informative presentation. Others require that you incorporate some theme into your speech that arises from the moment. Certain holidays lend a clear and useful tone to your talk, such as Christmas ("Peace on Earth, goodwill toward all"), Thanksgiving ("We are grateful for what we have been given and mindful of those who have less"), or Independence Day ("The price of freedom is eternal vigilance"). Preparing yourself by thinking about your audience, purpose and occasion won't guarantee success, but it will certainly increase your odds.CHAPTER 3
Rehearsal is essential
We're all asked to speak on occasion without benefit of any rehearsal (give an impromptu talk), but on those occasions, the audience knows that you've just been asked to "say a few words." Their expectations are low and the demands of the occasion won't ask much of you.
If your presentation involves anything more than a brief introduction of someone else, you had better prepare yourself by rehearsing the talk — more than once. If you care about the outcome, don't even consider showing up for the speech without rehearsing your remarks.
Rehearsal provides at least three benefits for your speech. First, it points out potential timing problems. You will know after a run-through or two whether you have too much, too little, or just enough to say. Is timing important? It's crucial, actually. In most North American business meetings, the senior person in the room speaks last. That means, of course, that junior members of the organization speak first. If their presentations run long or if they overstay their welcome, the most important folks in the room will have less time to speak than they had planned, which is never a pleasant situation.
A few years ago, I was asked to join the Corporate Communication team of The Boeing Company for a meeting in the company's Chicago headquarters. The meeting began well with a few brief presentations by junior project managers and section chiefs. One young woman in the employee communication division, however, was given eight minutes to brief the group on her recent activities and instead took twenty. By the time the meeting came around to Judith Muhlberg, the senior vice president for corporate communication, very little time was left and the CEO had yet to make his remarks. "I didn't get to be a senior executive in this company by taking other people's speaking time," she said, "so let me make this very brief." After just a couple of minutes, she turned the floor over to her chief executive, making sure he had his full allocation of time to speak. Following the meeting, Ms. Muhlberg collared the young project manager in the hallway and let her know 3 in no uncertain terms what she thought about her presentation. As a three-meter (ten foot) space cleared out around the two of them, it was obvious the young lady from employee communication was having what some managers call "a career moment" with her boss.
The second benefit rehearsal provides is an improvement in your transitions. As you practice your speech, you can identify the rough spots and work on transitioning clearly from one main point to another. You may be confronted with words, ideas or terminology you don't understand. (You have a choice here: figure it out or don't use it.) A word or phrase may look good when you write your speech on a laptop, but then you realize that it just doesn't sound right for one reason or another. Some words appeal more to the eye than the ear, and it's during rehearsal that you'll discover these problems.
Finally, a rehearsal helps you polish your delivery and build confidence. As you become familiar with the words, phrases and concepts in your talk, you'll internalize their meaning and become more self-assured about speaking aloud in front of an audience. Rehearsal improves your pacing and phrasing, as well.
Pacing is the rate at which you speak — how many words per minute you utter. Keep in mind that most conversations take place at around 125 to 140 words per minute. In a large auditorium with voice amplification, you may want to slow down. You may also want to slow down if the subject of your speech is technical, complex or unfamiliar to the audience. Phrasing means that you choose where to pause, stop, breathe and begin again. Once you're thoroughly familiar with the content of your speech, you'll feel better about knowing where to pause, when to breathe and how long to be silent before you begin the next thought.
When you rehearse, stand up and speak out loud. Don't hold back. Do all that you can to create the impression in your mind that the audience is right there waiting to hear from you. Time yourself as you practice and mark on your manuscript (if you're using one) which words to emphasize and where to pause. If you plan to use notes, make them simple, compact, easy-to-follow, numbered, and readable. Keep in mind that your audience doesn't want you to read to them, they want you to speak to them. We'll explore more about working with notes and manuscripts later. Just keep in mind that every rehearsal is one more opportunity to build skill and confidence. Believe me, it pays big dividends when the occasion arrives.CHAPTER 4
Emulating good speakers makes you better
A learning curve charts the learning progression of someone who is acquiring a new skill. Educational psychologists find that most learners experience a slow rate of progress at first, followed by a rapid acceleration of new knowledge or ability, followed in turn by a flattening of the curve as time progresses. In other words, most students typically struggle at first with the concepts, vocabulary and processes involved in learning a new skill. Many discouraged students think about quitting. Consider, for example, when you tried to learn how to play the piano or ride a bicycle. Acquiring a complex motor skill requires discipline, patience and dedication.
Research on public speaking has shown two basic phenomena related to learning. First, a concentrated program of instruction, rehearsal and critique can produce significant improvements in performance in a relatively short period of time. And second, the confidence acquired early in the process can result in higher levels of achievement over time.
The lessons from these findings are simple. Learning to present in public is much easier, for example, than learning to write or becoming an informed, critical listener. Confidence also plays a huge role in motivating inexperienced speakers to continue speaking, practicing and to accept the challenge of presenting under stressful, high-stakes conditions. You gain confidence with every successful presentation, which inspires you to take on other opportunities and take additional risks. The process begins with instruction, which really means watching and listening to successful speakers. People who can stand up and present successfully in front of others — offering compelling stories, dramatic narrative or powerful evidence — seem at first to be relatively rare. Most of us don't know many people who are that good, but I'm willing to bet that you know more of those people than you think.
Think about the best speakers you know, the ones who are always good when they get up to speak. My local church has an assistant rector who is really good. When he gives a homily on Sunday, he doesn't step up in the pulpit and read from a set of prepared remarks. He steps down in front of the altar, with nothing to hide behind and nothing to take his eyes off the congregation, and speaks to us. He's confident, full-throated, and full of enthusiasm. The experience is almost always high-energy, both for him and for the audience. Often, he begins with 4 a story about a recent event or about some people he's just met. Sometimes, he gives a narrative about events from his childhood, which he then links to the biblical readings for the day.
What makes him such a good speaker? For one thing, he isn't reading to us. He isn't preaching, either. He's having a conversation with the people in his church, sharing some small bit of wisdom that he thinks will improve their lives. Furthermore, he's rehearsed his homily to the point where he isn't likely to forget what he's going to say; he knows what transitions work and where to pause for breath. He also understands how to keep it moving, when to pause and gather our attention and when to deliver the next point. Honestly, he's fun to listen to, even if you've heard this particular story before. He's informative, he's persuasive and he's inspiring all at the same time. And — here's a real benefit he probably hadn't intended — he's instructive.
Those of us who think about presenting and public speaking are taking mental notes while he speaks. The more astute among the congregation are saying to themselves, "That's how to organize an anecdote in support of a main point." Or, "That's how to keep an audience involved in the message." Some folks are thinking about other things: unpaid bills, the new car they'd like to buy or events in the weeks ahead. Still others are engaged in food fantasies or fighting the urge to sleep. But more people are paying attention to this particular speaker than most, simply because he's skilled at the task of presenting.
Rather than tell yourself, "I'll never be as good as he is," ask yourself, "What can I learn from someone this gifted?" Look at a listening opportunity as a learning opportunity and take careful mental notes. Not all lessons are positive. Occasionally, you come across a bad speaker (someone forced to stand up and report to us on a task he or she'd clearly have rather written an e-mail about), and you say to yourself, "Egad! I'm glad I don't do that when I speak." Or, "That's something I'll never do when it's my turn to present." Those lessons can be just as important as the positive, high-energy teaching points from well-practiced speakers.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Truth About Confident Presenting, 2/e"
Copyright © 2019 James S. O'Rourke, IV.
Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
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Table of Contents
Part I: Some Initial Truths;
1. Public Speaking Is Not Easy, but It’s Certainly Doable;
2. The Key to Success Is Preparation;
3. Rehearsal Is Essential;
4. Emulating Good Speakers Makes You Better;
5. Establish Goals for Your Presentation;
6. A Presentation Is a Learning Occasion;
Part II: The Truth about Getting Ready to Speak;
7. Talk Is the Work;
8. Know What Your Audience Is Looking For;
9. There Is a Difference between Speaking and Writing;
10. Preparing a Presentation Is a Relatively Simple Process;
11. Begin by Analyzing Your Audience;
12. Know about Your Audience;
Part III: The Truth about What Makes People Listen;
13. Understand What Makes People Listen;
14. Your Speaking Style Makes a Difference;
15. Answer the Questions Listeners Bring to Your Presentation;
16. Listening Matters;
17. Being an Active Listener Brings Real Benefits;
18. You Can Overcome the Barriers to Successful Communication;
Part IV: The Truth about Developing Support for Your Presentation;
19. Develop Support for Your Presentation;
20. Understand the Power of Your Content;
21. The Kinds and Quality of Evidence Matter to Your Audience;
22. Structure Can Help Carry an Inexperienced Speaker;
23. Find Support for Your Presentation;
24. Use the Internet to Support Your Presentation;
Part V: The Truth about Getting Up to Speak;
25. Select a Delivery Approach;
26. Your Introduction Forms Their First Impression;
27. Begin with a Purpose in Mind;
28. Keep Your Audience Interested;
29. Conclusions Are as Important as Introductions;
30. Have Confidence in Your Preparation;
31. Repeat the Process as Often as Possible;
Part VI: The Truth about Managing Anxiety;
32. All Speakers Get Nervous;
33. Recognize Anxiety Before It Begins;
34. Deal with Nervous Behaviour;
35. Keep Your Nervousness to Yourself;
Part VII: The Truth about Nonverbal Communication;
36. Most Information Is Transferred Nonverbally;
37. The Nonverbal Process Can Work for You;
38. Nonverbal Communication Has Specific Functions;
39. Nonverbal Communication Is Governed by Key Principles;
40. Nonverbal Communication Has an Effect on Your Audience;
Part VIII: The Truth about Visual Aids;
41. Visual Aids Can Help Your Audience Understand Your Message;
42. Understand Visual Images Before You Use Them;
43. Choose the Right Visual; 44. Use PowerPoint Effectively;
45. Consider Speaking without Visuals;
Part IX: The Truth about Handling an Audience;
46. Assess the Mood of Your Audience;
47. Answer the Audience’s Questions;
48. Handle Hostility with Confidence;
Part X: The Truth about What Makes a Presentation Work;
49. Know as Much as Possible about the Location;
50. Use the Microphone to Your Advantage;
51. Know Your Limits;