It’s no secret that I love to talk—just ask my husband (ha!). However, it really isn’t just saying words that gets me excited. It is being able to communicate ideas that resonate with others, share ideas, and inspire action. My friend and Pastor, Jeff Noble recently asked me, to come speak to the Northstar staff team about communications. It is always an honor to have this opportunity; they are an amazing group with huge hearts.

The presentation I shared was very relevant to them in a faith-based organization but is also applicable to any industry or organization. I focused my talk on how to prepare and practice for a public speaking engagement in a way that will foster success. We worked through the following five questions and their implications:

  • Why are you doing this?
  • What do you want them to really hear?
  • Why should they listen to you?
  • How will you keep them interested?
  • How are you going to “show up”

Why are you doing this?

I ask a lot of questions that start with “why”. To me, this is foundational to all of life, not just communications. When you center on why you are doing something or why you began a task, it has a way of refining your focus. Specific to communications, it clarifies the messaging. There may be more than one, “why” and that’s great! The bottom line is, get at the heart of what you are really trying to accomplish and let that be your guide.

What do you want them to really hear?

Saying words and conveying a message are two different things. As you proceed with planning your talk, speech, or presentation, make sure the words you say are in support of what you really want them to hear.

While talking with the Northstar staff, the question was posed, “What I say and what people tell me they heard are often two different things. How do I try to fix this?” It was a great question! As I prepared to give a TEDx talk at VCU I gave my written talk to a group of my closest friends. Then, I asked them to respond to three questions. One of those questions was, “What was the main idea you got out of my talk?” That helped me know if they really “heard” the message of my talk. I did the same when I did a practice run of my talk in front of a Radford University class.

Everyone will hear your talk in the context of their experiences, and unique characteristics, but this tip of sharing your communication and asking your audience or reader to repeat back the main idea will help you refine and ensure it lands as you intend.

Why should they listen to you?

Establishing credibility is key but it is not always appropriate to have a “title slide” with your bio info. Consider the supporting information you share during your talk, and how it lends itself to your authority to speak on that topic. It could be as simple as saying, “When I personally reviewed the data.” Because that shows you have first-hand knowledge. It may also be mentioning your affiliation or title in the context of a story, “When I was the director of the program, I learned a valuable lesson about…”. Make sure you are aware that people need to understand why you are qualified to communicate about a topic, in order to facilitate greater buy in from your audience.

How will you keep them interested?

If you’re boring you will be ineffective, bottom line. People are able to nod their heads and look at you while hearing absolutely nothing you are saying. Actively seek ways to make your talk relevant to your audience and also engaging. Storytelling is one of my favorite ways to do this. Assuming the story is told well, your audience will hang on your words as they wait for the bottom line and conclusion to the story. Tie that back in to your overarching message and you will create a memorable teaching point.

Another way to keep them interested is to “paint with your words.” This phrase is something a friend and business mentor shared with me as I prepared for TEDx. She encouraged me to consider how I read children’s books to my children—the ebb and flow of tone, pitch, and speed.

How are you going to “show up?”

This question gets at the way you want your presence to be perceived by the audience. If you are going to communicate in person, everything from posture to eye contact, wardrobe and accessories, will factor into how you “show up” to your audience. It does not mean that you alter your style to be someone you aren’t. Rather, you pivot your style to the appropriate context of both the message you are delivering and the audience that will be watching and listening. Don’t detract from your message by showing up poorly or looking out of place.

Ask yourself the questions and make sure you prepare and practice in an intentional way that will contribute to communications success. This certainly isn’t exhaustive, I’d love to hear other questions that should be asked—comment below and let me know.

5 Questions to Ask Before Your Next Public Speaking Engagement
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Caitlyn Scaggs

Founder at Blue Mobius Marketing
Caitlyn is the Founder of Blue Mobius Marketing. She is an excellent storyteller with an inherently creative mind and a passion for marketing. She is people-focused in all that she does.

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