There are few more scary thoughts for someone speaking in public than their mind going blank. Naturally, you imagine it happening in the most important presentation, right as you're opening your mouth to start and the words don't come. Now everyone is watching, waiting, forming their first impressions, beginning to judge you and still there is nothing in your mind. Your nervous feelings, which were an uncomfortable but manageable trickle before, grow into a raging river of adrenaline and fear. It's like the bad dream when you're naked at high school and everyone is watching.
This is something every speaker must grapple with at some stage of their development. Thankfully, there are good ways around this fear, just as there are with nerves in general. Today you'll see how the power of structure helps you avoid this risk very effectively.
A structure is nothing more than the way you arrange your speaking content. It should be logical so that the audience can follow the message easily, just as the message should be clearly expressed. If anybody is confused by the end, it's very likely that your content and structure could do with work. Help your audience to follow what's going on by giving them a mental framework to use.
The simplest example, which you can read in many books and articles on presenting is as follows (slightly rewritten to use audience focused language)
- Introduce what they will hear/learn.
- Let them hear/learn it.
- Recap what they heard/learned.
Fine, you might say, but we were talking about the fear of me forgetting what I was going to say. How does structure help me with memory?
Structure provides one of the most powerful tools for helping your memory. If you have a logical plan of where you are going, then the details fall into place more easily as they flow from one another. Well structure messages are easier for the audience to follow and for the speaker to remember.
Here's a fun test. Give yourself 10 seconds to remember the following 13 words without writing anything down, then cover the words and see how many you can remember
The, a, the, the, of, sets, follow, will, tone, audience, that, opening, presentation.
How many did you get? In groups, they usually get around 10 or 11, though there's often argument about some of them. It's not easy.
Scroll down a little and try again. Give yourself 10 seconds to remember the following 13 words.
The opening of a presentation sets the tone that the audience will follow.
How many words did you remember now? Oh, you remembered all of them and were able to repeat them in the correct order? What a nice surprise ;-)
This is a bit of tease I know, however it illustrates the power of structure in our normal lives. When words are organised into logical structures (i.e. sentences) that take us to where we are going (i.e. communicating a meaning) then we have few problems remembering them. Another very interesting point that has come out of doing this activity over and over in training courses is that, even when the word order is mis-remembered, it often retains most of the meaning.
- The presentation opening sets the tone that the audience will follow.
- The opening sets the tone of the presentation that the audience will follow.
- The opening of a presentation will set the tone the audience will follow
When you put together a logical structure, you are helping yourself as much as you are helping your audience. Also, when you know where you are going, the exact steps of getting there are less important. If you need to mention A, B & C then there should be no problem remembering. Three points can fit in anyone's mind, no matter how nervous you are.
Don't worry too much about the exact words you use. As speakers, we should be practicing communicating our ideas more than we should be learning specific words. How you phrase the message will depend on many factors and shouldn't be the same for each audience. Just imagine giving a talk on resolving conflict to high school students and giving the same talk to corporate managers. The wording will be vastly different, even though the ideas are the same.
It's these core that matter and they should build on one another logically.
Structure helps take away the fear.
Make it logical to make it easier for your audience and for you.