How to Reduce Your Speaking Preparation Stress
“A speaker should approach his preparation not by what he wants to say, but by what he wants to learn.”― Todd Stocker
Have you been asked to speak to a group?
What were your initial feelings? Did your stress level go up? Did you ask yourself, “How am I going to do this?” Did you think about canceling?
I am not a stress expert, but my life experience has taught me that the more you prepare for an activity, the less stress you will experience.
This article is about how you prepare a presentation you will deliver and reduce your stress.
I will discuss choosing your presentation topic, organizational pattern, and your main points.
Choosing Your Presentation Topic
Your presentation should be audience-centered. In other words, put aside what you want to talk about and concentrate on what your audience wants and needs.
For instance, if your audience members are nurses, your topic should center around the nursing care of children, adults, and the elderly.
It sounds simple, but the best source of what your audience wants and needs to hear is your audience. So how can you find out this information? Three ways to do this are asking the event coordinator and audience members, asking the event coordinator what have been past topics presented to your audience, and asking the event coordinator which topics have audiences found very relevant and not so relevant.
Choosing your presentation topic should always be audience-centered. Choosing a topic without considering the audience is like throwing a dart at a target in a completely dark room. The chances of hitting the bullseye are meager. It is the same with your audience. If you do not consider their wants and needs before choosing your presentation’s topic, you are highly likely to miss your target.
Assuming you have considered your audience’s wants and needs and have selected your presentation topic accordingly, your next step is to choose your presentation’s organizational pattern.
Choosing Your Presentation Organizational Pattern
What do I mean by presentation structure? The best way to define presentation organizational patterns is to give you examples.
The following organizational patterns examples from What Are the Five Organizational Patterns of Public Speaking:
Logical or Topical. If you are giving a presentation that contains several interrelated ideas in such a way that one flows naturally to the next, you can use the logical pattern of organization. As the name implies, you’ll be logically organizing the information according to the topic.
Chronological. When information in a speech follows a chronological sequence, then the information should likewise be organized chronologically. For example, a presentation on the development of new technology should begin with its origin and then continue along the same timeline as events.
Geographical. If you wish to evoke an image of something with various parts, and those parts are distinguished by geography, then organize your speech using a spatial pattern. Spatial patterns are suited for presentations about a country or city, or even a building or organization, provided that the organization occupies a specific geographical location, such as a hospital or university.
Cause-and-Effect. Another way of organizing a speech on a particular topic is to look at the subject in terms of cause and effect. For example, a presentation about providing foreign aid to victims of a natural disaster in another country would discuss the disaster itself (the cause) and the impact the tragedy had on the nation’s people (the effect).
Problem-Solution. The problem-solution organizational pattern is similar to the cause-and-effect pattern, but is typically used when the speaker is trying to persuade the audience to take a particular viewpoint. In essence, the speaker introduces a problem and then outlines how this problem can be solved.
You have selected your presentation topic and organizational pattern. It is now time to choose your main points.
Choosing Your Presentation’s Main Points
Whether they are beginning or experienced speakers, a mistake speakers sometimes make is to decide their main points first and then support the main points with relevant subpoints. However, this can be very frustrating.
Non-fiction authors usually write the introduction to their books last. The reason for this is that the subsequent chapters evolve. If they wrote the introduction first, there is an excellent chance that some of what they wrote will not be in the book. It is the same with developing a presentation.
There is great wisdom in deciding your presentation’s main points after the ideas you are trying to convey have been “fleshed out.” This is no small feat because your mind wants to categorize things from the start like everyone else’s.
We will use two techniques to determine your presentation ideas and main points. Brian Tracy calls the first one Mind Storming. Mind Storming is similar to brainstorming only idea generation is not in a group; you strictly do it. The second technique is called Cards on the Wall, which will “ferret out” your main points.
The first step in Mind Storming is to generate as many ideas as possible about your topic.
A significant roadblock to mind storming is you evaluating ideas as they are being generated. As you generate these ideas about your topic, you must resist the urge to assess your ideas. This is key. Remember, you want to generate as many ideas as possible about your topic without evaluating them. Evaluating these ideas as you are generating them stops the idea generation process.
The second Mind Storming step is in two minutes to generate as many ideas as possible about your topic. Some of your ideas will seem silly. Some will seem not even on your topic. Some will be “spot on” for your topic. Why two minutes? It’s ironic, but when you feel the pressure of time, your ideas will flow more easily. If you think after two minutes you have not discovered all your ideas on your topic, take another two minutes to generate more ideas, but no more.
When you have finished the Mind Storming steps, use the Cards on the Wall technique to group your ideas into categories. So what is the Cards on the Wall technique? Put each topic idea you generated from Mind Storming on separate Post It notes and then logically group them on a board. After all your ideas are on the board, you will magically start seeing patterns of your ideas emerging. Put ideas in the same category together, separate from the others. These patterns become the main points of your speech.
If you have read my articles in the past, you know that I believe whether your presentation is five minutes, 20 minutes, or an hour, you should keep the number of main points to three for three excellent reasons: it is easier for your audience to remember three main points, it is easier for you to remember your three main points, and it causes you to be more efficient in delivering your presentation.
Once you have been asked to present to a group, the three most important steps for you to accomplish are choosing your presentation topic, the appropriate organizational pattern, and your main points.
These three actions will significantly reduce your stress.
Don’t stress over it!
Call to Action
Make your topic audience-centric exclusively
Use one of the three presentation organizational patterns (Logical/Topical, Chronological, Geographical, Cause-and-Effect, Problem-Solution) in all your presentations
Use the Mind Storming and Cards on the Wall techniques to determine your presentation’s main points.
“The audience are likely to remember only three things from your presentation or speech”― Stephen Keague, The Little Red Handbook of Public Speaking and Presenting
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, in 2002 because of his outstanding work in public speaking and leadership.
Frank formed DiBartolomeo Consulting International (DCI), LLC (www.frankdibartolomeo.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. Frank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.