Since this week is the Call for Proposals deadline for this year’s EAPA World EAP Conference in Chicago, I thought it would be a good time to share some of the key findings (and practical experiences) I’ve learned about how to be a more engaging speaker. In fact EAPA is currently seeking engaging speakers to “articulate EAP ideas for 15-minute ‘EAP Talks’ to be recorded and made available to the public.” (Deadline for submissions is Feb. 19.) To learn more visit http://www.eapassn.org/2016Call.
But there is still no getting around the fact that because not all speakers are engaging, not all presentations are particularly noteworthy, no matter what conference it is that you’re attending. That being said I still believe that even if presentations aren’t an individual’s particular strong suit, it IS possible to get better at it. After all, we all know that a boring speaker is about as much fun as watching paint dry on the wall, and who needs that?
* Focus on a single idea. Many speakers make the mistake of overwhelming their audiences with too much information. Audiences simply don’t remember a lot of what we hear. Many studies suggest that we only remember a small percentage of what we hear – an estimated 10% to 30%. As a result, Nick Morgan, author of Targeted Leadership – Building a Team that Hits the Mark recommends focusing a presentation on a single idea. “Write that one idea down in one sentence, and paste it up on your computer,” Morgan suggests. “Then eliminate everything else, no matter how beautiful a PowerPoint slide it’s on, that doesn’t support that idea.”
* Practice, practice, practice. Public speaking doesn’t come easily for many of us, but there are scores of ways of gaining experience. I’ve been a lector at our church for a number of years, and I served as secretary and president of a local Lions club. Each of these endeavors helped me gain confidence in speaking before an audience. Like anything else, the more you do it, the more comfortable and better you get at it. Other possibilities include enrolling in a public speech class or joining the Toastmasters, a nonprofit organization that develops public speaking and leadership skills through practice and feedback. See http://www.toastmasters.org. These are great ways of finding out what other people think about your presentation skills before you jump on that plane off to your next destination and talk.
* Look at the big-picture rather than nitpicking over the small stuff. “Before you spend too much time worrying about the color of the next binder that holds your training program materials, take the time to make sure that the contents will add value to the learning process,” recommends Jim Hopkins, author of The Training Physical. Ask yourself honestly, if YOU were attending the training session, would the information interest you, or bore you? At a previous training, were participants listening intently – or half heartedly while multi-tasking on other things at the same time? If the latter is the case, obviously you have some improving to do.
* Consider adopting a blended learning platform. Every speaker needs to consider the platform that he or she will use in presenting his or her topic. PowerPoint is “okay,” but it’s often overdone. As noted earlier, bombarding trainees and employees with slide after slide and expecting them to retain everything isn’t realistic. But what to do? Cordell Riley, founder and president of Tortal Training, points out that many training programs are adopting a blended approach to learning by incorporating a combination of various levels of classroom, online, and mobile learning platforms. “This not only allows companies to develop multiple teaching tools inexpensively, but will provide them with added flexibility on how and when to conduct training,” Riley says.
* Don’t be afraid of cracking a joke or showing that you have a sense of humor. Many presenters make the mistake of being a bit too serious, when interjecting a little levity into a discussion can engage the audience and get them to see you as an honest-to-goodness person, and not a talking head that goes on and on. I recall one World EAP presentation I attended in which the subject matter could have, and probably would have been, quite dry with many speakers. But that wasn’t the case! In discussing the work that went into a big grant proposal, the individual (I know who he is, but I’ll reserve the right to be confidential), showed a picture of Brad Pitt, representing the young, bushy-eyed worker eager to launch into that proposal. Then, he showed an after photo of Albert Einstein, whose disheveled appearance lent one to think how worn out this same person was afterward! Talk about an ice-breaker!
I hope these ideas help. Good luck!