How to Prepare to Speak at a Community Event
Allow plenty of time for preparation to write and organize your information. To start, determine the purpose of your presentation - why you are giving the speech. The primary purpose of most public speaking is to instruct or persuade. Since your goal is community education, your main purpose should be to instruct. But also mix in a small amount of persuasion to tell your audience “what’s in it for them.”
If the audience doesn’t know you, establish your credibility with them right from the beginning. Beyond providing your qualifications, share how you learned about the topic and why it is important to you. This will communicate your character and personality, giving the information more of a human slant.
CREATE AN OUTLINE AND NOTES
Make a list of points you want your audience to remember. Then, create an outline that clearly presents these main points. Almost all speeches can be written in an outline form – with short phrases and key words only. A completely written speech will cause the presenter to read from the paper without engaging the audience. Speaking to the
audience involves them, allowing you to make eye contact and determine if the audience is understanding your information.
Use neat, organized notes and become familiar enough with them that you won't lose your place during the presentation. Circle words that are technical in nature or unfamiliar to your audience. This will help you remember to define these terms during your speech. Type your notes in a large, easy-to-read font to make reference as easy as possible.
TIP: If you have more than two pages of notes, put them in a three-ring binder and request a podium to stand behind while speaking. This will eliminate the possibility of dropping your notes during the speech and getting them out of order. Using a podium can lend to your stature as an authoritative speaker, but can also create a barrier between you and your audience. So don't remain behind it during the entire presentation. Move around and enter the audience to make occasional points, which will help you make a connection with your audience.
VISUAL AIDS AND HANDOUTS
Visual aids and handouts can be used to enhance your presentation, but should not be used as a crutch. Your presentation should be well-prepared, interesting and informative even without visual aids. Here are some tips to make visual aids work for you:
- The fewer words the better. Keep any posters, slides or computer graphics simple, large and easy to read.
- Keep them moving. Don’t let slides dictate the tempo of the presentation and don’t stay on any one slide too long. Break the information down and use one slide to show an example. Never leave a slide up while you're talking about something else.
- Use them at appropriate times. Don't start off with a slide show. Get your audience interested first in what you are speaking about. Tell them about yourself and your topic before the lights go out. And don't schedule slides right after a meal. That is just an invitation to sleep through your speech.
- Equipment availability. Many smaller community groups may not have access to any kind of multimedia or computer equipment. And, even if they do, screens in local facilities can leave much to be desired, either being too small, or of poor quality. Using a small screen or poor quality visuals can make the presentation difficult for your audience to follow and cause them to loose interest. Check out the facility and the available equipment before you plan your presentation. Unless you can provide your own equipment, be prepared to deliver you presentation without technology-driven visual aids.
- Anticipate any problems. If you are relying on any technology, plan for the possibility of a breakdown. Check it all out before time to present but also have a back-up plan just in case there are problems.
- Handout materials afterward. If you distribute handouts during your speech, people read what you've given them instead of listen. Get the materials into their hands before the presentation only if you will be referring to the information. Then they can look it over and satisfy their curiosity before you begin speaking.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Rehearsing your actual presentation is the most important part in preparing a speech. And practicing it mentally just won't get you prepared. You need to rehearse it out loud several times before speaking in front of the live audience. Out loud rehearsal is critical, even for experienced speakers. Here are a few other ideas to help you prepare:
- Practice in front of a mirror or in front of a friend or family member - especially one who will not be afraid to give you constructive criticism.
- Practice making eye contact. This will help you speak to people, not at them.
- Practice walking and talking. This will help you get away from your notes and seem more involved with your audience.
- Practice making simple gestures. Not over-exaggerated gestures, but natural ones in regular conversation.
- Practice with your visual aids. Timing is everything here, so work with your materials or the technology to make sure it flows smoothly.
- Record yourself. Make an audio recording and listen to your speech to see how you can improve. (Or even better, record a video of your speech to see as well as hear how you present.)
- Practice timing. Nothing is worse than a speaker who goes over the time allotted. You are speaking by invitation, so honor the time limit you've been given.
- Practice voice fluctuations and volume. If you are soft-spoken, plan on using a microphone if available, or ask your audience if they can all hear you once you begin speaking.
ASK FOR FEEDBACK FROM OTHER PROFESSIONALS
A terrific way to develop your presentation skills is to practice in front of a group of other professionals who are working on their public speaking abilities as well. You'll usually find just such a group in your community - a local chapter of Toastmasters International.
Members of Toastmasters Clubs work to improve their communication skills not only by giving speeches, but also in giving and receiving constructive evaluations. Joining a Toastmasters group has several other benefits for new doctors, since working with a group of local business professionals will help build recognition and establish community relationships.
To find your local chapter or review tips on successful public speaking, go to Toastmasters website, www.toastmasters.org.
Read more in Part 4 -- Making an Effective Presentation