A Class Discussion on Speech Preparation

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Yesterday, Professional Communication and Presentation had its first 8-hour class of the term.  Our agenda included speech anxiety, preparation, “naked” delivery, creating strong content, storytelling, research and APA format, and an introduction to/time to work on the first speech: a team demonstration of a process.

In class, we watched Michael Bay’s epic presentation fail to lead into the two greatest problems speakers face: speech anxiety and lack of preparation.  My students brought up a great point.  If Michael Bay was presenting for Samsung, they said, a technology company, then he should have been able to rely on the technology to work (namely the teleprompter).  They also brought up Michael Bay’s livelihood as a director and asked if we should give him a break because he isn’t comfortable in front of the camera but behind it.

That lead us directly into our agenda for the day’s class.  We know from the experts that most people don’t prepare enough or prepare properly for a presentation.  Nancy Duarte’s book Resonate tells us that a great presentation takes incredible preparation and planning, yet only 25% of top business executives spend more than 2 hours getting ready for a high stakes presentation (Source).  Since my students will spend roughly 6 hours in class alone preparing for one speech in Professional Communication and Presentation, I hope they see firsthand what a difference preparation makes.  If they don’t learn by doing, we talk about it.  Here, you’ll find my “Preparation” lesson for PCP.

In Michael Bay’s case, he either let his speech anxiety take over; he didn’t prepare the way he should have; or he didn’t prepare at all and relied on technology to do the work for him.

For a presenter in a high stakes speaking environment, such as a Samsung press conference, many strategies can help overcome that stress and anxiety.  It is true that effective preparation and practice is one strategy to help with those nerves.  Other strategies can be found in a Slideshare deck by Orsolya Nemes called “13 Tips to Reduce Presentation Anxiety.”

As far as technology goes, there is no excuse for a presentation fail just because the teleprompter doesn’t work or the slides won’t appear.  Yes, Samsung is a company that deals with electronics and technology, but Samsung wasn’t responsible for delivering a good presentation: Michael Bay was.  When you step in front of an audience, the only thing that matters is that you’ve prepared enough to meet their needs.  They don’t care if the technology fails, and they don’t care if you’re nervous.  They want to know what you can do for them.  In “Prompt Yourself, Not Your Audience,” Nancy Duarte talks about the dreaded teleprompter mishap.  Duarte suggests that rather than relying on a teleprompter, we should use notes when we speak.  We can put our notes in the “Presenter’s Notes” section of a Keynote or PowerPoint, we can write those notes down on cards or in outline format.  These notes will keep us organized and on point if there is a technology fail – or if we get nervous.

Mitch Joel has this to say about the Michael Bay controversy: “Michael Bay was not doing any form of public speaking. He was going to read on stage, live in front of an audience (something that he has never read or rehearsed before). That’s not speaking. That’s reading” […] “The teleprompter either broke or he said the wrong line and this threw off the script and flow. The truth is that none of that matters because Bay broke the cardinal rule of presenting in public long before the wheels of his plane touched the ground in Las Vegas: he did not prepare. Not even for a second. You can tell by watching the video. Regardless of the teleprompter, it’s clear that Bay had two speaking points: what is his work day in and day out, and what does he think of the new curved glass TV? He got so flustered that he couldn’t even respond to those two questions, so he bolted from the stage. Five minutes of preparation would have changed all of that. Yes, five minutes” (Source).

The experts agree that Michael Bay’s presentation fail could have been avoided with speech preparation.  Some of my students want to give him the benefit of the doubt.  What do you think?  Weigh in on the importance of preparation in the “Comments” section.

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