Your Next BIG Speech
It’s not about you. You are just the vessel that carries the information from point a (source material) to point b (audience). That concept alone will make or break you as a presenter. We all have ego. We all like to feel special, loved, and important. But presentations are not a one-sided relationship. They are a symbiotic relationship between you and your audience. Presentations build and strengthen as your relationship with the audience grows. It is very analogous to dating, from the first impressions, through the flirting, to the wooing, and eventually to nailing that shit. So, how do you get from love at first sight to a lasting relationship that leaves them wanting more? Let’s break it down.
The General Public
The primary audience type you will encounter is the general public. This group is made up of your average Joes. The general public love things like Facebook and Pinterest. They go out to eat a few times a month. They go to church when they can. They make sure the grandkids get to see the grandparents on more than just the holidays. They usually root for at least one sports team and they can name one or more relevant musical artists (e.g., someone younger than 25 years old). The general public has a waning interest in most content and a notoriously short attention span. Luckily, they can be captured by good entertainment and have willingness and desire to connect with you.
Before you walk into a venue, you should always…always…always know with whom you are dealing. For example, as a scientist, when I’m talking with the general public I understand that technical jargon has to be eliminated. Kaput. Nada. There is no place for me talking about “hyporheic exchange between surface water and the phreatic zone” to a local farmer. I only need mention that “water seeps into the ground.” Both descriptions are exactly the same. How you want describe this clarification is up to you. You can call it dumbing down, simplifying, or making things more concise. For me, it all comes back to knowing to whom you are talking and what they may already know. For presentations, most people have come to listen to you speak because they want to learn. It’s your job to be as instructive as possible by making your material easy and engaging. After all, the audience is the reason you are there. Make them the focus of your presentation. Aim to give them the best shot possible to walk away with new insights. Insights you provided in an interesting and digestible way.
Kids in Space
When my eldest daughter was in preschool, somehow a conversation arose between my wife and the teacher that I had worked for NASA when I was younger. Apparently, this was very exciting news because that month the preschoolers were going to be learning about space. The teacher leapt at the chance to have me come in and speak with the kids. Now, knowing preschoolers are not known for their long attention spans, I needed to think of space-related content that would be age appropriate and captivating. What can all kids relate to? There is the sun. There are stars. And there is the moon. BAM! Goodnight Moon, that’s it. Everyone knows about the moon. Just look up at the night sky and you can see it almost every night. Besides, it much easier to explain the moon as a big rock than trying to describe the sun as a star made of glowing orange gas.
With my presentation, I decided to talk about why the moon has holes or “craters.” I dug through my old files from my time at the Johnson Space Center and found my collection of historic lunar images taken during the 1960s and 1970s. I brought a handful of original prints and handed them out to the students as keepsakes. I hoped that they’d take them home and frame them. Or, at least, show them to their parents who would be surprised and impressed by the aged photo prints that showed lunar details they, themselves, have never seen. I have no clue what the kids actually did with the pictures. But, the pictures were just the appetizer. Something for the kids to show and touch that gave me authority in their eyes. They were to show the kids that there are, in fact, craters on the moon. The meat of the presentation was the in-class exercise for explaining cratering.
Our moon travels around earth in a synchronous orbit. As the Earth rotates (spins) and revolves (orbits) around the sun, the moon rotates and revolves around Earth. The rate that the moon rotates syncs with the rate that it revolves, such that the moon turns just enough that one side will always face the Earth. It’s essentially locked in orbit around Earth, with its “face” looking inward and its backside facing away. Because the moon only faces one direction, there is a significant difference in the way it has been impacted by meteorites, asteroids, and the like. The satellite images I brought showed the kids that the backside of the moon looks heavily cratered compared to the front side. This crater pattern is due to the orbital properties of the moon and Earth. The gravity of Earth pulls meteors and space debris toward the planet and the moon acts as de facto shield, blocking the space junk from hitting our planet.
Now, how do you demonstrate this cratering asymmetry to a dozen rambunctious preschoolers? Not with a PowerPoint presentation, that‘s for sure. Instead, what I did was position one student in the middle of the room. He was Earth. I then cut a plastic garbage bag, slid it over a teacher poncho-style. Sprayed the bag with aerosol glue. I then asked the teacher to walk around the student, rotating ever so slightly so that she always faced the “Earth” student. I then spread the kids around the room. I handed each kid a handful or two (or three) of cotton balls. As the teacher walked around the student in a “locked” orbit, I had the rest of the class throw cotton balls at Earth as she passed. We then examined the front and backside of the “moon” bag to see where more cotton balls were stuck. Yah, science rules!
Why bring this presentation up? Simple. Know your audience. Kids learn with their hands. Adults learn with their eyes. Some audiences need incentives to remain engaged. Others don’t. I find that chocolate works wonders.
Parenting & Public Speaking. Together
The behaviors, experiences, and techniques parents use everyday can improve YOUR NEXT BIG SPEECH. Whether it be using silly voices or just playing with the kids, these actions improve self-confidence, stage presence, and audience engagement. And that’s just the beginning…