Thursday, May 23, 2013

Being Interesting, The Ultimate Challenge

If you ask most people what they dread as a listener or as an audience member they will quickly mention being on the receiving end of a boring presentation. And I think as speakers one of the things we most fear is that our audience will find us boring and tune us out.

But what is a speaker to do? How can we ensure that we are not boring our audience?

Many years ago I was asked by the American Forensics Association to present a workshop on "Creating Interesting Informative and Persuasive Speeches". Today I would like to share what I talked about that day.

First, I think interesting talks start with a topic you find interesting, This really is an essential aspect of an interesting end product. If you are given a choice about what to speak about, choose something you are interested in and your challenge will be so much easier. Audiences can tell when we love our topic. There is an inner enthusiasm that shines through in nearly every word.

Unfortunately sometimes our topic is thrust upon us with little regard for our personal interests, such as having to explain a new software program to our co-workers, or the latest federal regulations regarding our line of work. In cases like these it is essential to identify one or more "benefits of knowing" this new information. Will it make our work easier in the long run? Will it save us money or increase profit (which may open the door for those long awaited wage increases!)? Will it make us healthier? Wealthier? or Wiser? What is in it for the learner? Once you identify that this is valuable information at some level, it should enhance your interest in it.

Or perhaps it is just the speaking opportunity itself that has value. This will enhance your career, enhance your status in the eyes of your co-workers or in the community, or provide some economic opportunity. All of these are factors that should raise your interest level in giving this talk.

So you have established that your topic or speaking situation is something that interests you, great. But how do you make it interesting for an audience? Well, one essential is to make sure THEY know the "benefit of knowing" because this is a reason to listen. It motivates the audience's interest in what you are talking about. So early in your speech--right after your attention-getter--give them the reason to listen in the form of the benefits of learning/knowing what you will be sharing with them.

Beyond that though, try to fill your talk with interesting information. There is probably ten times more information on your topic available to you than you have you have time to cover. This puts you in a good position, as you can cherry pick all the interesting bits of info. In this way all the information in your speech is relatively interesting.

So at this point you have an interesting topic and interesting information to share, but that does not remotely guarantee that your presentation will be interesting because you still have to deliver it. A poor speaker can ruin even the most interesting information!

In fact I once had to attend two workshops on the same day. One was on Sexual Harassment, the other on FERPA (the Federal Education Respect for Provacy Act  it's the academic version of HIPPA laws, which limit who your doctor can share your personal medical info with). Which do you think would be more interesting? Sex, right? Wrong. The Sexual Harassment workshop was poorly done and dry as toast. I could barely stay awake. The FERPA presentation on the other hand was engaging, thought-provoking, and oh so interesting. The difference was all in the delivery.

And so how do you make your delivery interesting? First, avoid reading to your audience! Speak extemporaneously (a big word that simply means speaking from limited notes containing the ideas you will talk about NOT the words you are going to say). Speaking extemporaneously will keep you natural and conversational, which is the goal.

Furthermore use PowerPoint, or whatever visual aid you use, well. Fewer words and more pictures for starters. And since I have already written on how to use PowerPoint more effectively, you can read it HERE.

And last, but not anywhere remotely near least, tell stories. Audiences love stories and find them interesting. When you hear a story begin it is almost impossible to not listen intently because we naturally become curious about what will happen to the characters in the story. For more on storytelling for public speakers read this and this.

And that's about it for today. Start with an interesting topic, include interesting information, deliver it in an interesting manner, use stories, and you will be interesting in front of that audience. I guarantee it!

Be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading.

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting services visit Semiosphere Consulting.