Creative commentary plus crafty composition

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Anyone who has made a presentation to groups more than once knows how important it is to project confidence, speak clearly with vocal variety, and use language appropriate to the circumstances. (Like in so many settings, first attempts often have a built-in mulligan.) These elements help to establish stage presence, evoke credibility, and ultimately enhance the likelihood of positive reception.

An important part of preparation is assertive self-talk. In my early years as a financial consultant, a popular ‘motivating speaker’ making the rounds was Brian Tracy, a strong advocator of personal reinforcement being spoken aloud. One of his more strident messages, on the theme that we should start each day taking advantage of our ‘thirty golden minutes’ to build up self esteem, was to look in the mirror and repeatedly say, “I like myself, I like myself, I like myself!”. Luminaries such as Moe Szyslak (troubled, insecure bartender in ‘The Simpsons’) could benefit from this approach.

In the July issue of Toastmaster magazine, an article discusses half a dozen mental foibles which can help make the presenter’s journey to successful communication more challenging.

  • Dependence on modern software: while the medium remains to some extent the message, when it comes to personal presentation, it is the person who must stand out more than the graphics; at our Toastmasters club meeting last week, the speaker made effective use of PowerPoint bullet points, but it was still his delivery which was the key in attempting to instill his message
  • Seeking perfection: when it comes to public speaking, the slicker the presentation the more canned, and likely insincere, it will come across; how many times has one felt more impacted by a humbler speaker whose sincerity felt credible, feeding the audience more memorably?
  • Depending on emotion: speaking ‘from the heart’ with passion and conviction is important to connect with an audience, but providing substance typically requires some degree of preparation; combined with practice ensures there will be substance left after the smoke clears
  • Focusing only on content: conversely, if one expects the details and meat of the message to carry the day alone, one will be disappointed, and more importantly the audience will be too; inspiring audience response requires some of the speaker’s passion and self to be on display
  • Few slides with too much linage: visuals are supposed to reinforce the delivery of messages, not take them over; squeezing too much content on slides in order to have fewer of them is not a winning compromise; as the article author suggests, one should ‘think like a designer’, using slides to add colour and life, not just reading them to the audience
  • Tell ‘em what’s coming, tell ‘em, say you told ‘em: while this traditional approach to speech-making is still of value to many, especially as a learning tool, in presentations to ‘intelligent and discerning’ attendees such repetition may well come across as using up valuable time with unnecessary overlap; better to tell one’s story with conviction so the message will impact the first time

Naturally, the degree to which one inculcates such tips will always need flexibility, depending on the context, adapting to one’s personal style. However, like almost anything dynamic, communication styles evolve, particularly if one remains committed to self-improvement as a means to enhance connecting with others.

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