“Every night before going to sleep we must ask ourselves, what weakness did I overcome today; what virtue did I acquire.” ~ Seneca
The voice of Seneca has been echoing around in my head a lot lately- which isn’t a bad thing. When it comes to practical and actionable advice he is hard to beat. One of my weaknesses is definitely public speaking, and judging by the available surveys, I am not alone. The thing is, public speaking can be a key component of any career advancement strategy. So I am regularly on the lookout for good books and podcasts on this topic.
I tend to really enjoy reading about self improvement, but I also find that much of today’s self help literature is often a mile wide and an inch deep. After finishing reading 200 pages of anecdotes and side discussions I often feel like the author could have said everything he had to say in a nice and detailed blog post.
After reading Talk Like Ted a few weeks ago I was inspired to do a little more reading around the topic of public speaking and found a great little book, The Essentials of Persuasive Public Speaking, by Sims Wyeth. This short work contains none of that fluff. In fact it is not so much a narrative book as a collection of short pieces of advice, a style I find most useful.
In just 165 pages Wyeth is able to provide a reader with a wealth of information about how to speak, and speak well. Here are a few choice pieces of advice that I found particularly helpful.
First on the importance of story telling:
When told to make your presentation like a story, you’re being told to create dramas because people pay attention to drama…Ensure that your presentation meets these requirements of any good drama. 1.The audience identifies with the hero. 2. The problems are real to the audience. 3. The stakes are high enough to mean something.
On identifying with your audience before you start to talk about yourself/product:
[A] good sales presentation first demonstrates an understanding of at least three things about the prospect (their drivers, objectives and problems) before it launches into ‘Who we are, What we do, Why we’re different and Where we’ve done it before’, four things about the seller.
On the power of questions:
At the start of your presentation, instead of telling your audience what they need to know, ask them questions that have the potential of revealing that they lack complete knowledge of the subject you’re about to address. You’ll get them thinking and rouse their curiosity.
Shift your thinking from, What information do I need to convey? to What questions do I need to propagate in the mind of my audience?
On being yourself as a speaker, Wyeth tells of how he has a homemade greeting card from a relative taped to his wall. Then:
Hallmark makes good cards, but I’ve never put one on my wall. Speech that authentically reveals the personality of the speaker, and is addressed to and about an individual or defined group, is far more memorable than a message from a corporation meant for a demographic.
Make all your presentations personal.
I could go on, but I think at this point you have a pretty good sense of what Wyeth has to offer. If you need short, pithy and useful advice on public speaking I can highly recommend The Essentials of Persuasive Public Speaking.