[On] Point to Ponder: Why do Speakers Ramble?

Last week I took questions at the end of a talk on Storytelling in Business. One woman raised her hand and asked, “Why do so many speakers ramble? Why do they sometimes go on and on … and on?” She had obviously been held captive – on numerous occasions – by speakers who have committed such a crime.  Her question was punctuated by the collective groan I heard from the rest of the audience. They’d been there too. We all have. And the answer was simple. “There’s only one reason why a speaker goes on and on pointlessly,” I said. “They lack preparation. They did not take time to thoroughly think through their speech. They didn’t formulate their stories, and they don’t have a clear objective.”  There was a lot of nodding. Don’t be this kind of speaker. Here are 3 keys to preparation that few people actually do but that all great speakers definitely do.

  1. Visualization. When I gave the eulogy at my grandmother’s funeral years ago, I relied heavily on this technique. It is a powerful tool. There are 2 steps to this process. First, visualize yourself giving the talk. Think of yourself on the stage or in the space, giving the talk. What are you wearing? Who is in the audience? What is the mood, the lighting, the time of day? Take that first breath and start the talk in your head. What comes out of your mouth first? Are you fidgeting or nervous? Or do your facial expressions say “I am confident and ready.” Do you know the material like the back of your hand? Are you warm toward the audience, making eye contact and smiling slightly? How will you transition between talk sections, through the slides? Step 2 is to give the talk again (in your mind) but from the audience’s perspective. Be an audience member and listen to yourself. Are you interested? Rambling? Is the speaker connecting to you? Are you laughing at the right points? Do you understand the terminology? Are you going too fast, too slow? Are you bored by yourself? Visualization requires a quiet space and a good amount mental energy. I usually do this on a walk, in my car, or sitting on the couch after my kids are all in bed.
  2. Rehearsing – yes, out loud. Sorry folks, I know it’s painful, but there’s just no substitution for this. My dog has heard my talks far more than any human being, but the human beings are grateful that I use my dog (and kids) as a sounding board. When you stand up in a room and start giving your talk to the air molecules around you, something amazing can happen. You lay down “tracks” in your brain that allow for increased recall of the words and phrases. For the first time, you hear the sentences that have until now just been in your head but haven’t been spoken. The speech becomes “real.” You realize your words are either brilliant or you should scrap them and find another way to say that point. Then, like clay, you mold it. Shape it. Rework it. Depending on the talk and the occasion, it may not be practical to go through the entire speech multiple times. If that’s the case, get your introduction right and get your stories right. When you’ve said them out loud in multiple ways, it’s simply less scary to present it. Now you have 3 or 4 options at the ready when you take the stage.  Lay the foundation for these critical points and your audience will thank you. Out loud.
  3. Hit the Record Button. If you’re really serious, this step can’t be missed. The technology is available, it’s within inches of you most of the day – use it! When I taught public speaking at UGA, I recorded the students for one of their speeches. They had to watch themselves and fill out an evaluation. Talk about painful and humbling. But oh, the improvement I saw for the rest of the semester. Speakers who don’t shy away from this step improve dramatically. I recommend clients videotape in segments (again, introduction and any stories they’ll tell). Watch the segments, then only listen. Watch and listen from the speaker’s point of view, then the audience’s point of view. Find sticking points and re-work. If you ramble, you will hear it yourself, and you will get out the red pen.

Public speaking is like a piece of beautifully composed music. It has high points and low points, crescendos and decrescendos, climaxes and quiet, reflective points where pauses (“rests”) exist. Speaking rate, volume, and tone should never be the same from beginning to end. If it is, you’ll be that rambling, unprepared speaker. This damages your credibility. Work with the words in your speech like Beethoven worked the notes in his symphonies, and you’ll create a masterpiece.

Owner of On Point Communications, LLC, Cindy Skalicky coaches executives, TEDx speakers, and presenters who seek message mastery. Learn more atwww.onpoint-communications.com  #CTLConf #presentation skills #public speaking


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