Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why crafting a message should take some time

I keep running into speakers in a rush.  Specifically, they're assuming something must be wrong if they can't come up with a message--the core plan or outline for their content--right away.  They might be assuming that words should spring to their lips in an impromptu speaking situation, or agonizing over why it's taking so long to figure out what they want to say.  Either way, they hear a clock ticking.

Likewise, I meet other trainers from time to time who say, "I can give her a message in five minutes."  Really? Should they? would be my question. Let me advocate a more thoughtful process for planning your speaking content, presentation or speech.  Here's why:
  • You should be working ahead anyway:  Often, the rush to be ready belies an overall lack of preparation.  Speakers who don't take the time to plan their talks in advance are those most likely to say, afterward, "Oh, I forgot to include..." or "I wish I'd added..."  Planning a message ahead of time gives you time to tweak, edit and reconsider, so use that time to advantage.
  • You need to imagine audience questions:  What the audience wants, can absorb or is interested in should be the primary driver for your effort to engage them as a speaker.  If you don't take the time to test your message or content plan for your assumptions about the audience--and its likely assumptions about your topic--you may be unpleasantly surprised come question time.  Take the time to look at your plan and hear it as an audience member might, then come up with the questions you want, expect and fear to see how those might alter your content.
  • Your topic may demand it:  I do a lot of work training scientists and engineers, whose complex concepts often require a lot of unpacking before they can be understood by a more generally educated audience.  The more detail you're trying to summarize, the more work it will take.  Or, as Albert Einstein said, "You don't really understand something until you can explain it to your grandmother," an oft-misquoted aphorism that suggests your understanding of your topic will improve if you can explain it with simplicity and clarity.  That takes time.
  • You need that time to become familiar with it.  Working and reworking your message is a form of rehearsing.  Only by editing and considering it at some length can you know it well.  (Practice also is important, once you have it where you want it.)
Are you a member of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook? Join our thriving community to get extra content, early input into my blog posts, and to share your questions, photos and video.

New! Sign up for The Eloquent Woman's free monthly newsletter, Step Up Your Speaking

Shop for books, technology and supplies for speakers at The Eloquent Woman's Speaker Resources Store