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Scared Speechless
(Continued from 1)

One of my students did a presentation on supporting the Lions Club eyeglass collection program. At the beginning of the speech, she flipped the lights off. “Can you imagine sitting in the dark during this class?” she asked. When she flipped the lights back on seconds later, the speaker had the full attention of every class member.

Donít overlook the conclusion. This is your last chance to make a lasting impression. Be sure to drive home your main points. Give a quick summary and end with a strong statement or thought-provoking question.

Leave an echo in the room.

Once you have your outline set up, then go back and fill-in-the-blanks. Consider various ways to make your point or points. Remember that visuals, anecdotes, and quotations transform chunks of data into memorable information your audience can digest and use.

If you think back to “Show and Tell” in grade school, then youíll remember that itís far easier to explain when you have something to display. Some presentations require visuals. For example, itís virtually impossible to demonstrate how to press flowers unless you have the tools to do so. On the other hand, some speeches can be delivered without visuals. Still, visuals do add variety and make the information easier to follow and digest. Consider posters, overhead slides, or PowerPoint.

Anecdotes are simply little stories to back up the information presented. Everyone enjoys a good story. Draw from your own experiences and add short narratives to highlight your key points. For example, one student gave a speech on eating smart. The speech would have been very standard had the student not told the class how she used the “smart eating approach” to drop 100 pounds over two years time.

A solid quotation can be used to start or end a presentation and to back up your own ideas. Simply check a cataloged quotation reference book or look online at Quoteland or at Quotation Dictionary. For example, I put “quotation” in the search bar at Quotation Dictionary and found nine quotes on quotations including the following:

“A quotation in a speech, article or book is like a rifle in the hands of an infantryman. It speaks with authority.”—Brendan Francis

Once you have the outline and supporting materials gathered, you need to practice out loud. Although some studies indicate that mentally throwing free shots between basketball games increases basket rates, going over a speech in your head is not the same as giving it out loud.

Try to practice with an audience. Give your presentation for your family or for some friends. Ask for specific feedback.

-What did you find most helpful in my speech?

-What parts were hard to follow?

-Which examples or visuals helped most?

-Do I need to add more visuals?

-Did I interact well?

-Did I do or say anything distracting?

If you canít find an audience, then practice in front of a mirror or tape your presentation (audio or video are both helpful). Although you may feel silly talking to your mirror or cringe when you hear or see the tape, you really will learn a lot about your speaking style and skills if you sit back and evaluate.

Slip into the Speaking Zone.
Always get plenty of sleep the night before you speak. Eat lightly beforehand. Wear comfortable clothes. This is not the day to sport brand new heels.

Breath deeply before you step up to the lectern. It may help to close your eyes and mentally picture a favorite place like a spot in the woods or a sunny stretch of sand at the beach.

Say something nice to yourself before you step up to speak. You would never dream of looking at the person next to you in class and sneering, “Iíll bet your speech is going to be terrible. No one will be interested. Youíll probably get a bad grade.” But, many students will say those kinds of things prior to speaking. Little wonder itís hard to get up and give a speech after hearing words like those in your head. Replace those thoughts with: "You know your material. You worked hard on the presentation. Everyone is looking forward to hearing what you have to say."

You Can Do It!
If youíre working toward a degree, then youíll probably have to take a speaking class or give some presentations in specific classes. Draw on your years of experience to come up with ideas. Draft an outline with introduction, body, and conclusion. Add color to the presentation with visuals, anecdotes, and quotations. Practice out loud. Finally, relax. Youíll do just fine, and youíll get better every time you step to the front of the room.

Cyndi Allison is a lecturer in the communications department at Catawba College and a freelance writer for national magazines.

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