A Letter To All Public Speakers -By Omotunde Davies

Filed under: Democracy & Governance |

Omotunde Davies


Dear Speaker,

A retrospective thinking of the first time I made a presentation to a group of executives and my first time on stage behind a podium delivering a speech, reminds me of that feelings of anxiety, sweaty-palm, palpitation, apprehension, call it whatever you want, often experienced by public speakers or that experienced when you want to make presentation or deliver a speech.
As you know, making presentation to a group of executives or standing in front of a large audience to deliver a speech can be a herculean task, a tough huddle to scale no matter your level of familiarity with your audience. From thinking about how to speak the language of your audience, to arranging your presentation in such a way that it communicates exactly what you intend and drive the right feelings; from thinking about the sexes of your audience, to addressing their cultural diversity; from being concerned about the level of knowledge and exposure of your audience, to thinking of how best to start the presentation or make an entry. All those are the challenges you face, and trust me, I have been in your shoes and I am still in your shoes. So, I write to address some of these challenges.

Unless you speak the language of your intended audience, you won’t be heard by the people you want to reach. Be as brief as possible, cultivate the habit of using short words. Using long word when a short one would suffice tends to raise suspicion. “What’s this guy trying to sell me?” “Does he have an ulterior motive?” …are some of the questions that will immediately pup up in the mind of your audience. The most effective word clarifies rather than obscure; it makes ideas clear rather than clouding them. The more simply and plainly an idea is presented, the more understandable it is – and therefore, the more credible it will be.

Credibility is as important as philosophy. People have to believe it to buy it. If your words lack sincerity, if they contradict accepted facts, circumstance, or perception, they will lack impact. So, credibility is established very simply – tell people who you are or what you do. Then be that person and do what you have said you would do. And finally, remind people that you are what in fact you say you are.

Consistency matters as much as the air you breathe. Finding a good message and then sticking with it takes extraordinary discipline, but it pays off tenfold in building trust and believability.

Cherish novelty; offer something new. While we appreciate predictability as individuals, we also cherish those things that surprise and shock us provided that the outcome is pleasant rather than painful. The combination of surprise and intrigue create a compelling message. Although often executed with humor, what matters most is the message bring a sense of discovery, a sort of “Wow, I never thought about it that way” reaction. Always say your words in a way that will make people think in a fresh way and if it generates a “I don’t know that” response, you have succeeded.

Speak aspiration-ally. The key to successful aspirational message is to personalize and humanize the message to trigger an emotional remembrance. People will forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel. If your listeners can apply your words to a general situation or human condition, you have achieved humanization but if your listeners can relate your words to his or her own life experience, that’s personalization.

Visualize – paint a vivid picture. Visualization has much to do with words as it does with pictures and there’s one word that automatically triggers the process of visualization by its mere mention. That word is: IMAGINE. The word “imagine” is perhaps the single most powerful communication tool because it allows individuals to picture whatever personal vision is in their hearts and minds. Thereby building an emotional connection between you and your audience.

As a speaker, it’s sometimes not what you say but what you ask that really matters. So, ask questions. A statement put in the form of a rhetorical question can have greater impact than a plain assertion. When you assert, the reaction of the listener depends to some degree on his or her opinion of you. But making the same statement in the form of a rhetorical question makes the reaction personal. People react best to messages that are participatory – allowing the receiver to interact with the message and the messenger.

Provide context, explain relevance. Context is important, you have to give people the “why” of a message before you tell them the “therefore” and the “so that.” Context (or framing) better explains why a particular message matters. Without context, you cannot explain a message’s value. Relevance is focused on the individual and personal component of a communication effort. Put most simply, if it doesn’t matter to the intended audience, it won’t be heard.

Be prepared for the battle of the sexes. There are definitely differences between outlook and perspective of men and women that requires a higher level of communication sophistication – women generally respond better to stories, anecdotes and metaphors, while men are more fact-oriented and statistical. Men appreciate cold, more scientific, almost mathematical approach; women sensibilities tend to be more personal, human, and literary. The biggest difference between the genders is in response to tone. Women react much more negatively to negative messages than men do.

Never lose sight of whom you’re talking to – and who is listening. Remember that the meaning of your word is constantly in flux, rather than being fixed; that words are ingested in isolation – their meanings are shaped by the regional biases, life experiences, education, assumptions, and prejudice of those who receive them; that circumstances change and so do the meaning of words. Never prepare your speech for one audience, forgetting that the other audience is listening as well – take into consideration, the regional and cultural biases of your listeners and chose your words accordingly.

In conclusion, every element of your presentation – the order of your words, the visuals that accompany them, and the way that they relate to what your audience knows of your personality, your history, your character – all of these elements blend to form a single impression. If even one of these elements is off, if they don’t work together seamlessly like the piece of a puzzle, you risk losing control of your message or, indeed, sending the wrong message altogether. Remember that in presentation/public speaking, A+B+C does not necessarily equal C+B+A. Break your fixation on what you’re determined to say, and instead think about what your audience will hear.

Omotunde Davies.