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What Are Your Talking Points?

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What Are Your Talking Points?
What Are Your Talking Points?

    When I started doing my own research after completing my graduate coursework, I was advised by a mentor to have three descriptions of my work ready to recite at a moment’s notice: a three-minute overview, a 12-minute presentation, and a half-hour discussion. The three-minute version is what you tell someone when you’re sharing an elevator at an academic conference; the 12-minute version is suitable for giving a conference presentation; and the half-hour version is what you pull out when you’re sitting down for an interview with a potential funder or getting permission from a local community to do research there.

    Businesspeople face similar kinds of situations, and are often told to have similarly-timed versions of their presentation at hand for different contexts — the “elevator pitch” of a few minutes, the short PowerPoint presentation, and the longer version for an interview with funders or others. But how do you talk about a project you’re passionate about in only a couple of minutes — without leaving out anything important? And if you can do that, how can you fill out a half-hour or more on the same material without running out of steam?

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    The trick is talking points. While we’re accustomed to think about talking points in the context of political campaigns, the idea is applicable to any project where you need to be persuasive and compelling. Having a set of clear, easily-remembered, and well-supported talking points means you always have an outline to work from, so you don’t leave anything out — and so you can hang as much, or as little, as necessary from that outline to fill out whatever time is allotted.

    In the current (October 2007) issue of Writing that Works, a newsletter for business writers, speechwriting coach Joan Detz suggests that you have three (no more, no less) talking points for any given project. Two is too thin and unsubstantial, and four and higher is more than anyone can easily grasp. Three points is a comfortable amount to comprehend and because we tend to remember things easily when they come in threes, more memorable than a higher number of points.

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    Sitting down and working out talking points offers an opportunity to really dig into your project and what you hope to accomplish with it. Once you have three simple statements of what you’re project is all about, you can start building up supporting material directly aimed at those points. Research results, statistics, current events, and other material you come across can be assessed for its value in explaining or illustrating your talking points. Keep a file — either physically in a folder or virtually in a word processing document — and add material under the relevant talking point.

    In a three-minute elevator pitch, you may only have time to list your talking points, and maybe add an item or two for clarification. When it comes time to make a formal presentation, open your file and pull out enough material to fill the allotted time. The idea is not to add more talking points but to explain and expand the same talking points more depending on how much time you have. This means you’re not muddying the waters by adding too many key issues or diluting the impact of your talking points; instead, more time allows you to be more persuasive, to build a stronger case.

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    For example, let’s say I want to develop an online learning strategy for introductory classes at my university. To get a project like that moving, I need to get funding, either from the university or an outside party, and I need to get the university to provide technological resources and other support — which means I need to convince several different parties that the project is worthwhile. I might have the following talking points:

    • Students are comfortable using online resources and enjoy using them.
    • Social networking is the wave of the future and gaining competence now will better prepare them for life after graduation.
    • Creating an online learning environment will allow students to pull together resources from across the Internet.

    I should note that I’m not actually doing this project, so maybe those aren’t the best talking points. But they’re fine for illustration here.

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    Now, if I find myself standing on line in the dining commons with a provost or dean, I might casually mention my project and list the talking points above more or less as they appear here. If my line-mate is interested and asks me to come by her office for 15 minutes next week and discuss it further, I could open up my file of supporting material and pick out a few compelling things for each point — say, a recent study of college students’ Internet usage, an editorial from a teaching magazine on using Internet resources in the classroom, and an article from Wired on the use of Facebook in businesses — and talk about that in our meeting. If I were asked to make a longer presentation, I would pull out more supporting material.

    Staying focused on talking points gives your audience, whether one person or a hundred, an instant take-away, and prevents you from getting off-track. Each becomes a kind of mission statement, preventing you from dwelling on the trivial at the expense of the truly important. Like a mission statement, they direct your attention as well, helping you to avoid tangents and wild goose chases. In an organizational setting, talking points are doubly important, for the same reason political campaigners rely on them — they help prevent people from giving conflicting messages to funders, potential supporters, and the press. And, most importantly, knowing your talking points means never being caught out without anything meaningful to say.

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    Last Updated on July 20, 2021

    How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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    How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

    You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

    Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

    Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

    Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

    1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

    According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

    “Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

    Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

    Warming up

    If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

    If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

    Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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    1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
    2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
    3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

    Stay hydrated

    Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

    To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

    Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

    Meditate

    Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

    Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

    Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

    Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

    2. Focus on your goal

    One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

    Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

    Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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    Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

    If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

    3. Convert negativity to positivity

    There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

    ‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

    It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

    Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

    Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

    Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

    4. Understand your content

    Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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    However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

    “No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

    Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

    Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

    One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

    5. Practice makes perfect

    Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

    In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

    Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

    6. Be authentic

    There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

    Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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    Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

    To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

    With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

    Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

    7. Post speech evaluation

    Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

    Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

    We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

    You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

    Improve your next speech

    As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

    Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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    • How did I do?
    • Are there any areas for improvement?
    • Did I sound or look stressed?
    • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
    • Was I saying “um” too often?
    • How was the flow of the speech?

    Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

    If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

    Reference

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