ADVICE ON PUBLIC SPEAKING
COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Please note that this article should be
considered copyrighted by myself, Ron Plachno, and please treat all
articles in this section that way. It contains parts, if not word
for word, directly from my second book,
Strategies I Learned Becoming a VP.
Am I a great public speaker? Some say I did well at times, but I would
never call myself a great public speaker. However I did learn a few
things along the way. The first is that after your first thousand public
speeches, it does become easier. Okay, you say, that did not help. Some
thoughts for beginnings and intermediate and beyond.
I agree that it has been long since my first public speeches. I do
remember the terror and wondering how to approach it. Two things that
come to mind. If it is a subject that you care about it is far, far
easier to give a speech. The second is that even a speech genius
generally needs some "aids" to keep on track. Perhaps a person begins
their speech career reading a speech, but then it is best to get to just
key bullet points as a helpful aid as soon as one can. Some approaches:
Memorizing a Speech Word for Word - few people do that. I understand
that some stand up comics do that since they likely have no choice. But
this can also lead to problems. I recall once a very practiced comic,
Rita Rudner, I think it was, saying that her comedy act was about an
hour or an hour and a half long. She said one day that it is impossible
to make it longer or shorter or just not easy to change. So memorizing
something word for word may not lead to safety. For example, what if a
leader says "speed this up would you" and you do not know how. I only
suggest memorizing the speech word for word for those people who like
comedians may have no choice.
Writing it All Down and Reading it - This might be where we all start.
And perhaps few would give the person a hard time. But if doing this
remember that the biggest problem is losing your place. And that is easy
to do if you try and look up to the people at all. One suggestion is
that even if it is all written out, have it arranged in writing so you
can quickly find your place. Perhaps you are talking about a location
and you have some words on history, current plans, and future
predictions. Perhaps you then break your written talk into three pages
and write 1: History, 2: Current Plans and 3: Future Predictions in
bigger letters on top of the three pages. Now if you lose your place in
reading since you just looked up, ask yourself where you logically were.
You were halfway through history when you looked up? Then maybe look
halfway down the history page. Or if you cannot find your place on the
history page could you simply begin anew with the page 2 on current
plans and try to seam it together? Anyway, instead of trying to just
write it all out, try to write it out in a logical manner such that you
can find your place quickly.
Bullet Points - This is the point to get to as soon as you are
comfortable. This means that instead of memorizing it all or writing it
all down, you just have bullet points - of what the main subjects are
that you are going to talk about. And then you see the bullet point and
just begin talking about that subject in your own words while looking
around the room. And when done with that subject, look down for the next
bullet point. Note that bullet points might be on a piece of paper, or a
3 x 5 card, or written on your wrist, or it could be by a visual aid
such as a viewgraph or slide show or the modern computer PowerPoint
equivalent of all of that. Many accomplished speakers use a PowerPoint
visual show not only to help their listeners, but also to keep
themselves on track for what the next subject is.
INTERMEDIATE to beyond
For an intermediate person who has given a few speeches, well then I
would give three recommendations. if you have time before the speech,
consider example 1, learning yourself and advice from Sun Tzu. If
however you are to give a speech in just minutes and you had not
prepared, then consider example 2, Please Your Audience. It beats trying
to fight your audience especially if you have no time to be too clever.
I did add an example 3, Teleprompter Speech.
EXAMPLE ONE: IF YOU HAVE TIME: LEARN YOURSELF. THEN BE AT YOUR BEST
Sun Tzu wrote a famous book called "The Art of War" in China about 500
BC. I read the book long ago wondering why it was so famous. Now I may
not recall all that it said, or I may now be confused, but the book to
me seemed mostly an exercise in common sense. That means to me that the
book has more meaning than just how to win wars in 500 BC.
As I recall the book would say things such that if there was bright sun
out, ensure that the sun was in your enemies eyes and not your own eyes.
And if the war was on a hill, ensure that you are on the high ground and
not the lower ground. I read this all as common sense. Now I do not
intend to go to war or hurt anyone. But what I read into this book was:
"Put yourself at your best". And some side points of that are - first
learn who you are, what you are good at and what you are bad at. Then
arrange as much as you can to achieve fair and honest success at work,
or in this case, during public speaking.
I recall when after reading this book I tried to use its principles. I
was a Vice President at the time and had 2500 people in my group. All of
us managers agreed that each month every employee in our plant should
hear how the business was doing, how we were doing on goals, what news
there was and be allowed to ask questions. And so I asked myself how
best to do that. Some others similar to me would have meetings in our
giant cafeterias. I found that would not work for me. It was something
about people walking in and out and making noise while I was talking
that I found distracting and did not put me at my best. I also knew that
even though I had no rare diseases, that if I held something in my
hands, that over time my hand would begin shaking and I could not stop
And so what would Sun Tzu do? Well, he would arrange things to put me at
my best. And that is what I did. I found the largest conference room on
our campus and it held 250 people at once. Fine. I would do 10 meetings
each month within 3 days of each other of 250 each and I would not start
talking till the doors were closed. Then I ensured I never held any
paper in my hand. Instead I used viewgraphs. Since I had given a number
of speeches in the past, what I needed was something to keep me
organized to go from one subject to the next. Viewgraphs did that for
me. There were few words on them, but they gave the subjects. And so the
meetings put me at my best. The audience thought the viewgraphs were for
them. Yes, but also for me. I held nothing in my hands but walked around
the room. The doors were closed. It was the best environment for me. At
times later people would tell me I was a good speaker. Thanks. But
perhaps what they did not know, is that much in the room was arranged to
put me at my best. Sun Tzu would be proud.
EXAMPLE TWO: NO TIME? PLEASE YOUR AUDIENCE
If you have to give a quick speech because someone asked you to, please
your audience instead of fighting them. How? Remember that the favorite
subject of most people is "themselves". So, talk about them and
Example 2a: - The funeral or wedding speech. What do those two have in
common? Well, if someone asks you to say a few words at a public but
family type gathering, here is my advice. First of all compliment the
people who came from a great distance to be there, or who gave things up
to be in attendance. Then simply thank everyone (all) for coming there
to be in attendance since they gave their time. Allow time for people to
clap for them or to at least look around and sort of thank them. If the
item is catered you might consider thanking the people who helped put
the affair together. People like when they are being congratulated.
After you do this and people are at ease and many are glad they were
just thanked for coming, now you might just add a little bit on your own
now that you feel comfortable. Then smile and get off the stage. They
will like that also.
Example 2b: I at times had to give speeches when given no notice. The
most bizarre was when I was in Hangzhou China for Motorola and our
licensee there, Eastcom I believe, had just opened a cellular base
station plant working with us. This was the grand opening. During a tour
of the facility, my boss asked me if I would say a few words at the
opening ceremony a few minutes from the moment he asked me. I said that I would. Now, there
was no time to plan. While I was a Vice President at the time, I was the
lowest ranking Vice President there. I just assumed that I would be lost
in the crowd and no one would even notice me. Famous last words, or
thoughts. So in just a few minutes we went outside and it was clear that
they were going to put on a show. Directly in front were several
microphones. Directly in front of that were all of the workers from the plant.
To my right was a Chinese brass band playing an entrance number. To my
left was a cyclone type metal fence with residents of Hangzhou China
pressed against it as far as I could see. Okay, so this was not a small
affair. Then it got more serious. I found out that there were only going
to be three speakers that day, and the other two were Chinese. And so I
was the only American (or British speaker) there.
So getting a grip and almost laughing to myself that I had been set up I
decided to make the best of it. Then I got lucky. Since I was an
American from Britain and this was China, I would be working through an
interpreter. Have you ever worked through an interpreter? I have done so
a number of times since our business was international. It can be easy
if you do it right. You say one sentence and smile. The interpreter then
speaks and translates while you smile and have time to think about what
you are going to say for your next sentence. Yes I smiled, but let me be
clear. That helped a great deal. And not only did I have an interpreter,
I was given what I considered the best I had ever seen. I had met this
Chinese lady interpreter before. She makes an art of her business. Not
only is her English perfect, she also knows our slang, our habits, and
likely knows quite a lot about what makes Americans tick. In short, she
was beyond great. Yes! So some features. Anyway, I did what I suggested
above when there is no time to prepare. I first of all thanked the hard
workers from the plant who tirelessly worked to make it a great start on
the first day. Then the interpreter said all that. Then I smiled while
people clapped for the hard plant workers. Next I complimented the local
Chinese cellular companies for what seemed to me like a great system -
that my cellular phone calls just went through effortlessly even tying
back to home registration in the UK. What a great job they did. The
translator translated, the people clapped and smiled. Next I think I
complimented the people who had invested in this licensee business.
Actually, I am not sure who I complimented third but I did do a third.
This time the interpreter started to stare at me for a second like what
was I doing? And my boss then tapped me and said I was going too far. Ha
ha. He was jealous. Again the people loved it and clapped. And of course
then I thanked them and stopped and bowed or whatever and they loved it.
I then found out I made the Hangzhou papers. The papers were all in
Chinese characters of course except for my name which appeared in
English a few times.
|The photo at the left was sent to me as part of
the Hangzhou newspaper coverage of the plant opening and the
speech. No, that was not me at the microphone, but I
believe one of the Chinese speakers. I was in the back row
of this photo, I believe the left most of the two dark suits
left of center.
|In sort of typical Asian fashion, they sometimes
combine Congi characters with English characters, and you can
see that the English characters are my name. Well,
also in English characters was the type of cellular system to be
My advice? I cannot suggest this strongly enough. If you are put on the
spot for a quick speech, do not go negative - that is too dangerous.
Instead try to find something to compliment the local people and group
on - hard work, travelling to this place, their caring, their
contributions, something. People are always the happiest ..... when you
talk about them. And when given short notice, that is a very good
EXAMPLE THREE: TELEPROMPTER SPEECH
I once had to be one of perhaps 6 speakers at a Motorola Patent Dinner
in a huge fancy Chicago area hotel for engineers and scientists who had
received patents and had their spouses - husbands or wives- along. I normally would not have
done this speech, but my boss was not able to do it and
asked me to do it for him. I was fine with that and agreed. There was no
information at all before the night of the dinner. Before the patent
dinner started, the teleprompter team wanted 15 minutes or less with me.
They wanted me to practice reading from two glass (or plastic?) teleprompters, one on
each side of me, that would contain the very same words. I found it....
easy... and adjusted easily to the scrolling words. Basically what one
does is pretend they are looking to the right and read from the right
teleprompter, and then look to the left as if you are at ease looking
around and read from the left teleprompter. And it took little practice.
If someone asked me what it took, I would say "nerve". It mostly just
takes nerve. You have to assume that the people in the back are feeding
you words. And now you are a play actor, pretending to look around the
room but really reading from the right and the left. I was soon mostly
at ease, even though I had not a single word of that thing memorized.
But of course, I would not go on without the 10 or 15 minutes practice
that one time. What gets teleprompter engineers mad? If you veer from
the script. They had no worries with me except just slight word changes
when I would shake the hand of the winners. Once one gets comfortable,
of course some of your own words of thanks come out. But they told me a
former boss of mine and a friend was just "trouble" that he kept veering
from the script. Well, not sure I would advise it. At some point maybe
the whole team gets confused. Anyway, that is my advice if giving a
teleprompter speech. Do the rehearsal if you never did it before. Ensure
the team in the back room is on your side. And then smile and have the
nerve to read and look at ease.
Scene of myself (Ron Plachno) speaking via
teleprompter at the Motorola Patent Dinner
This photo? original videotape copy of dinner given me, to
DVD format, then to chosen still frame
(no photo shopping used at all on the final photo.
However, I did pick a "still" video frame where I was smiling.)
After all of that - again I would not say I was a great speaker at all.
I survived, and in fact often had decent grades on this. Of course that
does not mean I want more of this... ha ha. Let another person do it
now. What is it people say? You spend half your life getting your name
into print and the other half getting it out. Someone else's turn now
for the adrenalin rushes.
Ronald J. Plachno
November 3, 2013