Be Flexible in Your Speaking
“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”– German Military Strategist Helmouth Von Moltke
My wife and I recently vacationed in Ireland. The trip was spectacular. From experiencing quaint small towns, marveling at the mountainous vistas, and enjoying the warm hospitality of the Irish people, our time in Ireland was memorable.
We had both vacationed in Ireland before, but somehow this trip was different. After much thought, I realized the main reason the trip was so to our liking was we didn’t overschedule ourselves. Sure, we planned hotels and some excursions but we left a lot of time during the day open to deciding our activities at the time.
Now, what does this have to do with speaking? Read on.
As a speaker, you plan the opening, body, and closing of your presentation. You practice your delivery many times to make your eventual delivery smooth. You anticipate as many audience questions as possible. These are all fine, good, and required, but do you allow for your spontaneity during your delivery?
We as speakers want everything in our presentation deliveries to go as planned. However, if you give this a little thought, you will realize this is not reality. Everything in your presentation will not go as planned. You have to learn to be flexible.
When a quarterback on a football team lines up at the line of scrimmage and sees the defense is not what was expected, he calls an audible which represents a different offensive play.
Consider “calling an audible” in your presentation when things do not go as planned. In other words, you have to be flexible to respond to prevailing conditions in your presentation.
Below are some advantages to being flexible in your presentation delivery:
Catering to Your Audience’s Wants and Needs “On the Fly”
Even though you thoroughly prepare for your presentation by understanding your audience’s wants and needs to the full extent possible, there is always the chance you would have “missed the mark” on something with your audience.
A telltale sign you are not connecting with your audience is blank stares on their faces. Unless you are observing smiles, frowns, and gentile laughter from your audience, you are not connecting with them.
There are two parts to solving this challenge. Number one, you have to realize you are not connecting. Number two, you need to change something in your presentation to connect with your audience.
If you are speaking, change to an exercise, show a video, or ask your audience questions. Almost any change will “jog” your audience to pay more attention to your message.
Being able to adjust your presentation to be more relevant to your audience is always a successful strategy.
Another advantage of being flexible in your presentation is it reduces your stress
Lowering Your Stress
We have all met speakers who like to be in complete control. You may be one of them. Unless their presentation goes according to plan, their stress goes up dramatically during their presentation.
Well, my friends, even as a structured speaker myself, I realize planning every last detail, is impossible, a good portion of what you are planning will not make a difference in the actual presentation, but a change in your presentation “on the fly” may make a world of difference.
Remember, your audience comes to your presentation with a “clean slate.” They have no idea how you will present your subject. Let it unfold before their eyes. You can recover from a mistake in your delivery if you have backup plans for the mistake. Whatever you do, don’t announce the mistake to the audience. I have seen speakers time and time again announce their faux pas to the detriment of the presentation.
It is calming to know every minute detail of your presentation does not have to be planned. Planning takes time. If you are planning every last detail of your presentation, this takes away from your presentation delivery practice not to mention giving you the false impression your presentation will go exactly as planned. The more time you devote to preparation practice, the better your presentation will be.
So, adjusting your presentation to be more relevant to your audience and reducing your stress are two advantages of being flexible in your presentation.
Another advantage of being flexible in your presentation is new thoughts from “left field” will “pop into” your head.
Thoughts Coming from “Left Field”
You plan your presentation opening, body, and closing. You read your speech aloud and practice before a mirror and a practice audience. You have thought about every possible detour in your presentation. Or have you?
There is something magical that happens when you interact with your audience. Things from “left field” you did not think of during your presentation preparation suddenly pop into your head. You can use these thoughts to enhance your presentation “on the fly.”
An audience question or comment suddenly brings you back to when you were a little child and the relevant story that will enhance your presentation.
A random, different way to explain your message appears to you
An audience question or comment shows you a different way to explain your message
These examples of thoughts from “left field” are but a “scratching of surface” of these thoughts.
You have to train yourself to be open to these thoughts from “left field.” Some of them are gems and keep the presentation new to you a bit. We all get bored sometimes with delivering the same presentation over and over again. Look for ways to “spice it up.” Your thoughts from “left field” will provide the spice. Remember though, your thoughts without action are still only your thoughts. You have to act on your thoughts to bolster your presentation.
Adjusting your presentation to be more relevant to your audience, reducing your stress and new thoughts from “left field popping into” your head are three advantages of not planning every detail in your presentation.
Don’t overplan your presentation. You will be missing opportunities to make your presentation memorable for your audience.
A presentation that “hits home” remains with your audience!
Call to Action
During your presentation, always be looking for ways to make your message more relevant to your audience’s wants and needs
To reduce your stress, plan a little less and trust your instincts to guide you through your presentation
Act during your presentation on relevant thoughts that “pop into your head”
“Grasp the subject, the words will follow.”– Cato the Elder
Frank DiBartolomeo is a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and award-winning speaker, presentation and interview skills coach, and Professional Member of the National Speakers Association. He was awarded Toastmasters International’s highest individual award, Distinguished Toastmaster because of his outstanding work in public speaking and leadership.
Frank formed DiBartolomeo Consulting International (DCI), LLC (www.speakleadandsucceed.com) in 2007. The mission of DCI is to help technical professionals to inspire, motivate, and influence their colleagues and other technical professionals through improving their presentation skills, communication, and personal presence. Reach Frank at email@example.com and (703) 509-4424.
Don’t miss Frank DiBartolomeo’s latest book!
“Speak Well and Prosper: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Better Presentations”