Public Speaking is Like Playing Chess
“It’s much easier to be convincing if you care about your topic. Figure out what’s important to you about your message and speak from the heart.”– Nicholas Boothman, Convince Them in 90 Seconds or Less: Make Instant Connections That Pay Off in Business and in Life
Some of you may be great chess players, some of you may play a game from time to time, and some of you may have never played chess before.
You don’t have to have played chess to see the similarities between chess and public speaking.
A chess game can be divided into three phases: the opening game, the middle game, and the end game.
It is interesting to look at delivering a presentation in the same way a chess game is viewed: the opening game, the middle game, and the end game.
The Opening Game
In the opening of a chess game, a player is trying develop his or her pieces, get their king to safety, and attempt to control the center. There is a direct analogy to the opening of a presentation.
In a presentation, instead of developing chess pieces, you are developing the outline of your presentation for your audience. It is a map, your audience can follow throughout your presentation. It keeps them focused on your message.
Look at the purpose of your presentation as the king is in chess. You need to protect your purpose, the “king” of your presentation. You do this by making your purpose abundantly clear and by mentioning it a number of times in your presentation, not just the opening. Repetition of your purpose will make it easier for your audience to remember it.
You are also laying the groundwork in controlling the center or body of your presentation. You might have heard of the presentation format, “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.” You control the center of your presentation, the body, by telling them what you are going to tell them. Your audience is expecting what you are going to say in the body of your presentation. In other words, you are controlling the message.
Once you have the opening down like a good chess player, it is time to “play the middle game.”
The Middle Game
In the middle game, a chess player begins to attack his or her opponent, and defend his or her chess pieces.
The analogy to chess here is you are pro-actively “attacking” your presentation content which is really robustly presenting your body using all the rhetorical tools you can use like gestures, pauses, and vocal variety to name just a few.
You may be asked questions by your audience during your presentation. You can look at this as “defending” your position like chess players defend their chess pieces. Perhaps a more positive way to look at it is you welcome questions. Questions from your audience is a good sign. It means they are listening and internalizing the information you are presenting. Answer your audience’s questions competently and they will become even more engaged. Remember, an engaged audience is never a bad thing.
After you deliver the body of your presentation you will shift into the “end game” of your presentation.
The End Game
The end game in chess commences when few pieces are still on the board and the player is trying to capture his or her opponent’s king.
The “end game” in your presentation begins when you have “told them” everything you needed to in your presentation and there are just a few things left to be said (in chess, few pieces are still on the board).
Instead of capturing your opponent’s king as in chess, as a speaker you are trying to capture your audiences thoughts and leave them with something they can remember and use in their personal and professional lives.
People remember what was said first and what was said last. So make your “end game” memorable in the minds of your audience.
So, your presentation can be viewed like the different stages of a chess game: the opening game, the middle game, and the end game.
Master each of these stages of your presentation and be prepared for a standing ovation!
Call to Action
In the “opening game” of your presentation, develop your outline, protect your presentation purpose by making it clear to your audience, and lay the groundwork to control the body of your presentation
In the “middle game” of your presentation, robustly present the body of your presentation and defend your presentation by welcoming audience questions answering them competently
In the “end game” of your presentation, capture your audiences thoughts and leave them with something they can remember and use in their personal and professional lives
“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
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