Aaron has posted a few thoughts, comparing his efforts to improve on public speaking to the efforts on improving his writing via his weblog. It’s an interesting comparison because in some ways they are similar. When you speak publicly you are using words to communicate thoughts and ideas to people, trying to educate, persuade, and entertain them all at the same time. Now, when you are doing a presentation in person, you have certain advantages, you can use visual aids, body language, and voice inflections to spruce up your presentation, but at the end of the day it’s the words and ideas that are the heart of any communication.
Let me tell you a little something about myself. I used to do a lot of public speaking. I wasn’t speaking about technology back in that former life, I was doing Bible studies for teenaged kids.(*) I spent the better part of 5 years learning how to get an idea across to what is probably the worst audience you can ever imagine, (You try getting a small group of teenage boys to focus for more than 5 minutes, I dare you!) but the experience taught me quite a bit. I use that knowledge when I’m speaking or even when I’m writing here. What I write here is a form of public communication. If it wasn’t, why put in on the site? My efforts here are to communicate my ideas, my thoughts with you, and for you to share your own input, just as you would have the same opportunity were this a speaking engagement. I always take questions at the end and do my best to foster a discussion of those questions among the group, if possible. I do the same thing here.
Some of things I learned, way back when, that I try to use in my online communications (some times successfully, others not so much):
1) Get to the point quickly, but be willing to go back over something if it’s not understood clearly. Sometimes people will get the idea the first time you say it, some times it will take 2-3 times, but always saying it 2-3 times just to be sure will bore the hell out of an audience that got it the first time. Be clear and concise, and go back as necessary.
2) Be yourself. People, especially teens, can spot a fake within minutes! Speak with your own voice, add your own humor.
3) Don’t take yourself too seriously. You will screw something up. You will say something that is wrong, or you will make a mistake in your information. Communicate publicly often enough and it will happen. That’s ok, admit it, revel in it! It makes you seem more human and opens people up to listening to you.
4) Adjust to your audience. Granted, in live speaking this is easier, but look and listen for clues in your audience. Have you spent days going on and on about a topic and no one’s left comments or given you any feedback? Might be time for a new topic. Have you spent days arguing with one person about something mundane and noticed that the rest of your audience has gone elsewhere? Time to politely drop the argument.
5) Do not consider the size of your audience. Speak consistently no matter who is listening. Your focus on communicating effectively shouldn’t change whether you are speaking to 1000 people or just one. The idea is to educate and communicate your ideas with other people. The numbers matter not. If you’re good enough, informative, entertaining, and challenging enough, the audience will find you. If you’re half-assing it because there’s only a few people reading, you’ll never get the audience.
Those are my thoughts anyway.
(*)-Note, just because I used to teach Bible studies years ago does not mean I am currently involved with any specific religious affiliation. I am not here to argue religion or theology with you, my current religious beliefs are mine and mine alone. Besides, I spent 10 years studying and teaching the Bible, with a few years worth of comparative religion courses thrown in for good measure, there aren’t many people who are going to win an argument with me on either side of the religious debate, trust me. 🙂
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