Since I’m getting ready for another presentation I thought I might post again on public speaking. I talked about it several times last year but one thing I didn’t discuss is how I actually prepare. Some of you with experience with public speaking will have developed your own strategies, and I’m not saying mine is the best by any means. I’ve used it for a long time, though, and it works for me.
Sometimes I’m asked to speak on a particular topic, and of course I do so. But a lot of venues leave the topic open, only hoping for something that will benefit other writers, particularly newer writers. In that case, I tend to select a topic for my talk that I personally want to know more about rather than picking something I know well. Enthusiasm is a big key to putting over a talk, and it’s hard to work up enthusiasm for something you have thought out very well. If I pick a topic I don’t know a lot about but want to, then I’m in an excited state of learning when I construct my talk, and that excitement is usually still there when I’m in front of people. A new insight or two into the writing process is certainly beneficial to me as a writer, but it also translates into an emotional excitement that can bleed into a talk and excite the audience.
Once I’ve decided on a topic, I immerse myself in reading about it. This usually calls for a trip to the library, but I often find a lot of stuff available online or in reference books that I already have hanging around the house. I usually jot some notes down for the talk as I’m reading, but I don’t even make an attempt to organize them at first. This is really more of a thinking/learning stage.
Once the writing begins, after a few days of thinking/learning, I first know I will need an intro, an icebreaker. I also know that this doesn’t have to have any detailed relationship to the main focus of the speech, so I personally always look for a way to work dreams and nightmares in. People love to talk about and hear about dreams, and I’ve got plenty to chose from and can usually find one that I can relate to the main topic of my talk.
For the main topic, I try to find a way to create “bullet points” for it. “Four ways to create Quick suspense,” for example. Or, “six ways to think about characters.” Lists such as this are not only a boon to an audience, they are a boon to the speaker as well. They really help organize material in a meaningful fashion, and they make it much easier to rehearse and learn a talk. Psychologists know that “part” learning is easier than “whole” learning for lengthy material. For example, it’s easy to memorize a six line poem by going over it all at once. But for a forty line poem it’s easier to memorize it one stanza at a time and then connect the stanzas. For a talk, I also find it easier to learn and rehearse each bullet point, then link point 1 with 2 and so on. This is part of that “modular” process that I talked about last year.
Finally, when writing up a presentation I tend to first write it out pretty much word for word as I intend to give it. Once it’s written, I like to let it sit for a few days because when I come back to it new points often occur to me. After everything is pretty much finished, I simply give it a few days of rereading without making any supreme effort to learn it. I’m just letting it “soak in” so to speak. Then I take my complete speech and make an outline of it, putting just the labels of the “parts” with a point or two under each label to focus my memory. As I begin to rehearse, using my outline but with the full speech available for checking myself, I do it in sections, like I mentioned above, and often practice on drives in the car, or on walks.
Anyway, that’s my basic approach, and now I better get back to it.