For the past few years I have been observing many talks and presentations. Most of what I’ve learned and gathered about public speaking comes from these observations. What is the difference between a boring talk, a good talk and a great one? I have found that there are 3 elements of public speaking. Boring talks focus on the first, good talks master number one and two. Great talks manage to incorporate the final element as well.
The content is the information there is. This is what you came to tell. The facts, the figures, the stats. If you give a talk about cats and you know two things about cats: they don’t like dogs but they do like tuna, then this is your content.
You step onto the stage, maybe welcome your audience and tell them your two facts. End of talk.
If you want your audience’s minds to go wandering during your talk, this is the way to go. They will soon into your talk stop really listening and they will certainly not remember your message afterwards.
Technique is everything that happens in and around your body. Your posture, your voice, your intonation and of course your hands. Just like content, technique is indeed a vital element of a successful talk. You want to practice techniques such as projecting your voice, speaking at a comfortable speed and the art of not fidgeting. But, for a great talk, focussing on only these two element is simply not enough. If you really want your audience to hang on you every word, you need element three!
This is where the magic happens! A well-thought-out form is the missing element in most talks. The form is where you create your story. I’m not talking about a fairytale or any kind of once-upon-a-time here. Your story is the sauce you pour over your content and technique. It is the analogy you use to make your content comprehensible, it’s the slides you show to engage your audience verbally and visually, it is the way you dress to complement your posture. An example of a form that has inspired me is this talk by Latif Nasser where he is having a dialogue with a recording. Or this talk by Anne Lamott in which she brings her content in 12 truths she knows for sure (and a very good dose of humour). I myself have once given a pitch in which I put all my content in a eulogy rather than a list of facts.