Public Speaking – Who is it for?

‘The Sinking Library’ is a fabled tale of a college library that is said to be sinking because the architect had not taken the weight of the books into account when he designed the building.

I’m going to provide the moral of the story in advance of this blog post – do not forget the books!

I recently attended a charity dinner where a colleague gave a speech.

She spoke magnificently. Her gestures were broad and confident. She made eye contact and held it for the perfect length of time. She projected her voice so that it rang clearly in every corner of the room. She didn’t need a microphone. Her voice never shook and she was never short of breath or red in the face. She paced her speech well and used emphasis at all the right moments. I may have mentioned already… it was a truly magnificent speech. We were all hooked.

We didn’t understand a word.

Yes, she spoke eloquently. But… her speech was written in such a way that it sounded like a thesaurus had vomited its contents onto the blank pages of her speech. She spoke beautifully, and yet it was lost on us. I consider myself relatively well-read, and yet I struggled to keep up with the biblical phraseology.

At some point in our lives, we will all be in some form of speaking situation. Whether it is a book-report at school, a presentation at university, an interview, a business meeting, or something else, we will all be – or have been – in a position where we have to put on some form of a show.

And yet.

While this speaker had clearly read ‘Public Speaking for Dummies’ from cover to cover, she had missed the chapter on content. I’ll cover that in one sentence: your content must be audience-appropriate.

The way in which I teach a class differs to the way in which I mentor one-to-one, which differs again from when I present an assignment before my university lectures.

If you are able to incorporate a number of useful and engaging techniques into a speech, but if your audience go glassy-eyed or are confounded by your language, your message will be lost on them. At that point, your speech becomes irrelevant. After all, the point in delivering a speech is to pass on a specific message. Having written the speech, you already know the material.

So next time you write a speech, make sure that the one thought you can answer after reading it through is ‘who is this for? Will they understand it?’

It will really help if you can find someone else willing to read it through and offer constructive criticism. However, when you can, make sure the people you are seeking advice from will provide true, honest, and unbiased opinions. Otherwise, we risk ending up in an echo chamber, where the only people we turn to for advice will only voice agreement with us and validate our own opinions (for more on this topic, read my blog post entitled ‘Cheerleaders – Do They Always Help?‘).

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