Last month, we invited writer and speaker John-Paul Flintoff to talk to us about his new book, A modest book about how to make an adequate speech. Our skills-theme this quarter has been spoken communication, with different opportunities for group and 1:1 training, The focus in these two sessions was a little different. While John-Paul did share tips and suggestions, this was more about developing a way of thinking about public speaking that participants could build on over time and would be relevant whatever the subject or setting.

The content was wide-ranging, but here are three of my takeaways:

Make it about your audience: Presenters are often told to make it about their audience, but this is usually confined to the planning stage. John-Paul went further, showing how you can bring the audience in to help shape the content as the talk is happening. Even with large groups you can ask for their input on what sections to focus on, or what direction to go in. This is something he did to great effect in our sessions.

Don’t shy away from your fear: Presenters often berate themselves for not being able to suppress feelings of nervousness before a big presentation. A lot of energy is expended, and focus taken up, with their, usually futile, efforts to make those feelings disappear. John-Paul’s suggestion, familiar to anyone with a meditation practice, is to observe those feelings rather than try to push them away: “oh look, John-Paul’s feeling a bit nervous today”. While nervousness might be with you during the talk it helps to take an outsider-looking-in perspective.

Make it ‘delightful’: We have all experienced a presenter who apologises for the dryness of their topic, or explains that “this is the boring bit”. That apologetic tone is intended to show that they get it, they’ve been in our shoes too, but its effect is usually to make us feel awkward or to dread what’s coming next. Instead, think about how you can make your content more interesting or more relevant for this audience. Is there a story you can tell to make it easier to understand and remember? What would it take for us to be glad that we had this opportunity to hear from you?

Some people try to avoid presenting altogether, but in most professional careers that’s not possible and it just means they’re less prepared when the big moments arrive. By taking every available opportunity to practise, big and small, you’ll have a chance to hone your personal approach, seek feedback and gain the experience that will carry you through when you really need it and, who knows, you might even find you enjoy it!