I see in my presentation classes that the trouble with most “I have nothing to say” or “I fear speaking in public” speakers, is that they suffocate themselves by confusing knowing how to say (structure), with what to say (content).
Opportunities to speak (voluntary or not) abound this December. Social (say, family gathering) and professional (say, end of year party). Yes, your company end of year party is first professional then social, even if it appears to be the reverse. So, when you are called upon to speak at it, take it as an opportunity to move up the corporate ladder. Speaking well at such a function could just tilt the promotion that has been under consideration in your favour. Speaking effectively tends to be associated with excellent leadership skills. Pulling away with, “No, I wasn’t prepared”, or, “I cannot speak in public”, could easily see the promotion tilt away from you.
Equally, you will likely get the same result if people say this: “His speeches left the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea; sometimes these meandering words would actually capture a straggling thought and bear it triumphantly as a prisoner in their midst, until it died of servitude and overwork.” That was the description given of a former President. Little wonder he was also described as “one of the worst Presidents in US history” and lasted two years. And he didn’t give speeches but tended more to bloviate. Bloviation is a style of empty, pompous political speech particularly popularized by President Warren G. Harding, who, himself a master of the technique, described it as “the art of speaking for as long as the occasion warrants, and saying nothing”. So, as I was saying, you do not want the decision makers in your company remembering you for this, do you?
So what to do? Well, first let’s get something out of the way. When you are called upon to “say something” (to use Kenyan parlance) it is because the host knows you do have something to say. And this already gives you a leg up- that you have useful content for the audience. I see in my presentation classes that the trouble with most “I have nothing to say” or “I fear speaking in public” speakers, is that they suffocate themselves by confusing knowing how to say (structure), with what to say (content). Rarely will the emcee call you to speak on something you are clueless about; in the unlikely event that he does, it is ok to say, “I am not familiar with that but here is something that can help”; thus turning the speech back to what you can contribute to.
Either way, here’s one of several structures you can adopt right away-past, present, future. In about five to seven minutes, talk about how it was in the past, share what is currently happening and give what you envisage as the future. You are guaranteed to remain on topic and speak in a way that’s easy for the audience to follow. So to the invite, “Karani, come tell us how you turned around your sales fortunes; you moved from the bottom of the charts in Q1 to hitting platinum in Q4.” How should Karani say it?
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