Speakers who read from a sheet of paper, carefully verbalizing each word that is printed there, usually come off as completely unnatural, nervous and inexperienced.
Audiences want to feel that there is an exchange between them and the speaker; To know that the speaker is aware of their presence and is interested in them, and how they are responding to what is being put before them. This can be something as simple as making eye contact, smiling at members of the audience, or responding to a reaction in the audience. That can not happen if you, as a presenter, are glued to the paper before you.
Experienced speakers work with an outline. It is generally a list of bullet points, pre-arranged in the order needed for a coherent presentation. That might sound scary at first, but really, if you know your subject well (and you should if you are speaking about it) then bullet points will be all you need. By following them, you can be sure you don’t forget anything, and you will present your material in a way that makes sense to your audience.
There are some other big advantages to using an outline. First, it takes little time to prepare, which leaves you more time to practice. Second, outlines allow you to make quick glances to your notes while focusing the majority of your attention on your audience. Third, by using an outline, you will ensure that your delivery is more natural. Your presentations will be easier to give, and more importantly, more interesting to listen to and more motivating to your audience.
How should you prepare your outline?
1) Determine your subject
if you are given a subject to speak on, spend some time analyzing it. Try to determine what aspect of the topic your audience will be interested in hearing you speak about. If you are to choose a subject, do so with the demographic of your audience in mind. (Residents of a seniors centre for example, have little interest in Hip Hop);
2) Determine why your topic or subject is important to your audience;
3) Decide what your objective is in presenting to your specific audience;
4) Select a theme (if that is appropriate) and stick to it. A wandering theme or speakers that seem to bounce from one theme to another tend to confuse their audiences;
5) Gather interesting facts, information or statistics that apply to your material;
6) Identify the main points that will appeal to your audience;
7) Organize your material; keep only the best and discard anything that is mediocre;
8) Prepare an interest-arousing introduction: Intrigue, shock value and humor are all effective ways to get the attention of even the largest groups;
9) Plan a motivating conclusion that will tie up any loose ends from your presentation; And,
10) Review, practice and take time to refine your outline as needed.
As you go through these steps, keep asking yourself: ‘Why is this material important to my audience? Why will they be interested in this information? What is my objective? What do I want my audience to take away from this? What is the overall ‘feel’ I want to project?’ Your goal should be not just to cover material or to give a colorful speech but to accomplish something beneficial for the people who will be listening to you. When your objective takes shape, write it down. Keep reminding yourself of it as you prepare.
It is also a good idea to have some information that you can add to or eliminate from your material on the fly. This is a good strategy that will help you finish your presentation on time.
Speaking from an outline takes some practice, but it goes a very long way to winning over audiences and is well worth the effort to learn.
La Velle Goodwin has been speaking, performing, teaching and entertaining for nearly 20 years. She is a member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers, Director of Rabid Entertainment Inc. , and developer of Speech Savvy Workshops