Be authentic. Don’t fake it. Talk about what you know about. – Linnaea Mallette
Nothing will bump up your nervousness about giving a talk than not being rock solid in your knowledge of the subject.
Knowledge is SO important when preparing and delivering your talk. Why? It represents your CREDIBILITY. In my opinion, the ONLY substitute for knowledge is a passion for the topic. Other than that, your presentation will fall flat if you do not know your topic. Knowledge can be derived from formal education or training OR your personal observation, experiences or even from a report.
Reader’s Digest How to Write and Speak Better offers the following on picking your subject matter:
- Choose a subject that suits you: You will talk best on a subject you know well, or in which you are deeply interested.
- Choose a subject that suits your audience: An audience will listen more readily if your subject is one that vitally concerns them and is timely.
- Choose a subject that suits the occasion.: A Memorial Day program demands a tribute to the dead and the ideals for which they gave their lives. An annual business meeting calls for reports on the year’s activities and perhaps a look at plans for the future.
Of course, you want to have knowledge about your speaking topic. Many years ago I was asked to MC an Americana event at a local Disabled American Veterans event. I knew NOTHING about war, about being a vet. I mean, I knew so little I was concerned about my effectiveness as even the MC. I stopped and asked myself what I did know. I remembered I had an uncle who was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed. I know that movies and TV documentaries like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Band of Brothers” gave me HUGE insight and appreciation for what it might be like to be a soldier in a war. So I confessed I knew little about the topic, and went on to share my PERSONAL limited knowledge and feelings about war and the vets. It was very well received.
So, as I did with the Americana event, the first step in preparing your talk is to gather together what you KNOW about the topic. Here are some ideas for capturing your knowledge and formatting it into a talk from Reader’s Digest, How to Write and Speak Better
- Jot down what you already know about the subject. A good technique is to brainstorm
- Add to your information from newspapers, magazines, web resources, newsletters, and interviews with people involved in your subject.
- Pick your structure (see “Format”)
- Pick your 3 main ideas/points
- Streamline the material according to time allotment.
Mind Mapping is sort of a visual way to brainstorm – the technique suggested by Readers Digest. Dictionary.com knows that a good way to garner how much you know about a topic is MIND MAPPING. Their Thesaurus links to a cool service called Visual Thesaurus. Look at the mind map it produced when I looked up synonyms for friend:
Mind mapping is an effective tool. I do not use it, but I know many who do. Accredited Speaker Sheryl Roush shared in a workshop her secret of gathering ideas for her talks – mind mapping. This is how she approaches mind mapping:
She draws a big circle on a sheet of paper. She writes the topic or idea she has in the middle (like “jewelry”). She then writes everything she can think of relating to that topic ascending from the middle.
When she can no longer think of any additional items to add, she reviews her items and groups them into categories. (For jewelry she might have a category on types of jewels, another on purchasing jewelry, and another on romantic value of jewelry.)
By the time she’s done with her mind-mapping/brainstorming session, she has a few categories with 3-4 or more items under it. You guessed it, she picks one topic and then selects 3 of the items within the topic she believes are most relevant and begins to prepare her speech.
While she didn’t specifically mention this in her workshop, obviously she would choose categories that she finds interesting or knows about, will fit her audience, and fit her time limitations.
Enhance your credibility by NOT sharing all your knowledge!
Public Speaking and internet marketing guru Tom Antion recommends
Purposely omit material that you know will evoke certain questions. When the questions come, give a preplanned answer that appears spontaneous. They’ll think you are a genius.
If you DO want to appear like a fool and damage your credibility, bluff an answer to a question for which you have none.