This past Monday, I had a day that made me stop and think about how much I enjoy the field of public speaking. It was a day that helped me really delve into the field in several different ways. Here is a description of my activities, starting from 1:00 PM and ending at 9:00 PM.
1. Toastmasters Meeting: At the last moment, I was asked to give a speech to my local Toastmasters club, Crimson Toastmasters
at Harvard University. I decided to start a new advanced speaker's manual entitled "Speaking to Inform", and for this first speech I educated my group about the best way to prepare for a "Question and Answer" session that often follows a speech. It's a particular skill set within public speaking that unfortunately you need to experience in order to improve. But there are specific ways to prepare for it.
I had to leave this meeting early in order to attend...
2. Presentation by Professor Rod Kramer
of Stanford's Graduate School of Business. He spoke about "Effective Self-Presentation: How Leaders Project Desired Images." I found this fascinating because he discussed such important speaking techniques as making sure your nonverbal communication matches the verbal (show the audience you really believe what you're saying) - and we looked at examples where the opposite happened. He mentioned an idea that I have long espoused when talking about the subject of leadership: no matter what values or ideas you have, you have to be able to effectively convince people at work, in the media, within your constituencies, etc. In other words, it's not enough to have a vision - you have to communicate that vision to others. Communicating that vision to others is in itself a leadership challenge.
At the conclusion of that fascinating presentation, I left to prepare for my next engagement, where I was the featured speaker:
3. Public Speaking Clinic at the Harvard Kennedy School on the subject of "Taking Control of Q+A
." You may now realize why I was so quick to speak at my Toastmasters club. I had already prepared a speech for this clinic. During this clinic, I spoke about how to prepare for and handle Q+A sessions. Then I gave the students a chance to write their own short speeches on a controversial topic. They each presented their speech and took tough questions from all of us (myself and the students). After that exercise, I facilitated group feedback for each person. It's a great method for giving everyone experience speaking and taking questions, and also for stimulating the analytical way in which we need to observe and learn from other speakers.
At the end of this session, I had to leave promptly in order to take a cab to Simmons College, where I was giving my final presentation for my Writing class about the reality TV show I was asked to write.
4. Presentation of "The Communicator with Donald Trump." In this show, Donald Trump is searching for a new VP of Communications for his company, so he sponsors an Apprentice-type reality show to find one. Each week, he gives the participants a variety of writing challenges to test their communication skills, and each week they make a variety of outrageous errors. The participants themselves are each stereotypical in their roles: the MBA student, the writing professor, the foreign diplomat, and the communications consultant (guess who wins?).
So for this final event of the day, I gave a Power Point presentation on the concept, rules, and participants of the show, and then read from the Pilot episode that I had written. The class reaction was great - people loved the participants and the exercises. Of course, this was in my business writing class, so I knew my audience.
Public speaking is a skill: the more you practice, the better you will become. The converse is also true: the less you practice, the worse you will become. That's why when opportunities come along to speak at the last moment, I always accept them. And that's why a day like Monday really makes me feel like I have increased my capacity to both speak in public and teach others how to speak.