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Just Say No



by Claudia Brogan

Not long ago I served as a speaking-coach for a highly intelligent scientist as he prepared to deliver an upcoming presentation. I can still remember our first meeting as we began the speech preparation process. For a 45-minute presentation timeslot, he brought 10 pages of script, double-spaced, lengthy, and dense. In a sense, he couldn’t resist the temptation to tell the audience everything he knew about his topic. We set those voluminous notes aside and created a brief list of the most crucial and timely ideas that he wanted to deliver. The result was a much trimmer, more focused, and more applicable presentation for the audience.

Sometimes the toughest part of designing one’s presentation is knowing when to say “no.”

Editing your next speech ought to include the early step of thinking “big and wide” before you narrow things down to only the most relevant key points.

It’s not necessary to include an interesting fact just because it’s true. No need to tell a funny joke just because it would make folks laugh. No need to startle or impress or dazzle the audience. Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.

Sift and winnow and edit and trim.

How best to do that? One handy tool is the freewheeling technique of using a Mind-Map (done much more effectively with a blank piece of paper rather than a computer keyboard or a lined sheet of paper).  List the subject in a center circle, then branch out on all sides with smaller circles and connecting lines: each mind map turns out differently, but helps the speech-designer sketch out various ideas and possible considerations. Once mapped out, the presenter can narrow down the points and anecdotes and select just a few that apply most to this particular occasion and audience. Rather than beginning with an outline which yields linear thinking, a mind map is likely to produce a creative and thorough approach so that the speaker can select the best elements and build a well-scoped speech.


Graphic credit to Jo Sabin, via hongkiat.com

After creating the MindMap, reflect upon the most useful, illuminating points you would like to present.  Forbes-writer Jeff Schmitt offers excellent perspective in this article about speech writing. Even if you have written several speeches in your days, I think you’ll find at least one (or 3) excellent ideas here. Inspiring and candid, Schmitt reminds us to include concrete details when delivering a story or description. Rather than saying “One afternoon I headed for a walk…” the speech-writer might say instead, “It was a sunny Thursday afternoon as I headed through my newly-mowed yard for a walk.”

Another salient point that Schmitt offers is for a speaker to resist being self-indulgent when delivering a speech. Boasting about an accomplishment, meeting a celebrity, or drawing attention to a skill that one has honed is less interesting and relatable than a presenter who speaks with humility about a habit that they need to improve. Foibles and humility will make a speaker sound more human, more real.

Be clear

Finally, knowing that we live in a time of numerous distractions and events, narrowing one’s aim for the speech reminds us to be polished, clear, and simplified. Call it a victory if your speech elements bring a smile to audience members; know that your time is well-spent if your presentation offers hope or renewal to your listeners. Teach a key concept or useful idea that illuminates a topic and you can call your speech a success.

With good preparation like this, your next speech will be clear because you have said “no” to speech elements that clutter your way. And you’ll say “yes” about what to include for a clear path.

Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you. Contact Claudia via email at claudiabrogan @ gmail.com, through LinkedIn or by phone at 404-849-5182.