Do you want to be a better speaker?

Published: 12th June 2020

By: Lasse Hamre

Can words change behaviour? This is the real challenge when planning a talk. Because why would you give a talk if it won’t lead to anything? So when you’re preparing your speech, don’t just familiarise yourself with the subject you’re going to speak on, spend time ensuring you’re going to create engagement with your audience.

Don’t get me wrong, of course you need to know what you’re talking about, and it’s important to set aside time to plan your content thoroughly. In the planning phase, you learn what you want to teach to others. 

Learning is an activity. And up to the point of your speech, you’re the only one who’s been active. If you want to get others to learn, you need to think beyond what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it, and think about how the learning is going to happen. Being a good speaker is very much about shifting the focus from you and to your audience. I’ve found it useful to rely on a good, old rule of thumb: 


M for Motivation 

Find out what motivated the participants to attend your talk. The motives are usually different. Some come because they have to, others come because they are interested. Interest springs from needs, and with good preparation you can find out what the needs of the target group are. What situations are they experiencing where your knowledge can be useful? Your plan should include a positive answer to questions such as “why should I spend time on this?” and “how is this relevant to me?”. 

A for Activation 

Learning is an activity. You must somehow activate the participants’ mental structures. What happens in the brain can be difficult to read in the faces of the participants. You may want to see lit-up eyes or interested body language. Then you know that the brain is involved. But you can also just make sure to activate the participants by giving specific tasks. Polling the audience by a show of hands, asking people to discuss with their neighbour, or group tasks are all activating methods.

C for Concretisation 

Always go for the most concrete. Theory is abstract, and the example will be concrete. Let me give you an example. 

You may have taken a first aid course in your lifetime. When did you feel that you had really learned CPR? Was it by watching someone doing CPR on a poster or film, or did you get to practice it for yourself on a doll? In this case, practice is the most concrete example of first aid in a course context. 

So when working on something more abstract, let’s say green procurement for example, it can be tempting to lecture about the procurement regulations. That will get pretty dry pretty quickly. So try asking yourself the question: “What is the most concrete way I could illustrate this?”. The perceived need will be more specific, and the actual service or product you procure will be more specific. Think about how you can bring it into your talk. 

V for Variation 

It is important to give variety, whether that’s tone of voice, method, tools, everything. Using the same thing over and over can quickly become boring. 

I for Individualisation 

You have the best opportunity for individualisation when you talk to people one on one. Then you are in dialogue, the content is automatically shared, and you can customise based on the immediate feedback you receive. 

The greater the distance or more people that are present, the more difficult it is to individualise, but you can go a long way with a little research. Look for topics, words and examples that hit the group. 

The easiest way to individualise, however, is to leave much of what happens in the room up to the participants. For example, ask “what motivates you?”. Have them discuss it with their peers. In this way, the participants fill the course with their own experiences that are unique to each individual.

S for Socialisation 

As the participants enter the physical or virtual space, the process of socialisation begins. The group is insecure at the start, and seeks security in finding out which rules apply and what it takes to feel accepted. For example, am I allowed to ask questions? If I ask questions, will anyone think I’m stupid? You must facilitate security and good working conditions so that people feel free to participate. Through participation comes commitment, and then the group becomes good. The group gets warmer as time goes on and you can invite them to participate with the least anxiety-promoting activities first. For example, polling by a show of hands. When you act confident and show that you accept everyone, the group will also be confident. 

Good luck with your talk!