Well, here’s the Good News: Most Speakers, beginning & experienced, don’t ‘look’

foolish when they Speak. You may sco! at that answer but read on. Here’s some more
Good News: But, you can ‘feel foolish’ as often as you allow yourself. This is “Good
News”? Yes and here’s why: this is one of those moments where, when you take
ownership or responsibility for your feelings you get to choose to feel or not to “feel
foolish.” Now while you’re considering that idea, I’m going to suggest some actions
you can take to decrease or eliminate those “I feel foolish” feelings when you’re
Speaking or Presenting at an event. So,
As life has it, in your future you have a Presentation or Speech to give, and try as you
might you can't avoid it. You’ve tried, unsuccessfully. What to do? Well legally changing
your name takes more time than you’ve got, so here are several steps you can take to
ensure you produce an e!ective outcome and not ‘feel foolish’ doing it.
First, define the "Role" you’ll be filling as the Speaker: Friend, Trainer, Salesperson,
Expert, Spokesperson, Problem-solver?* Now, once you've decided your “Role” in the
event, prepare your Speech or Presentation wearing that “Role” like a suit of
comfortable clothes. And every time you scribble a note or record an idea on your
smartphone, remind yourself that you are in that “Role”.
Next, decide how you “feel” about the information you’ll be delivering. Are you happy,
sad, frustrated, angry, enthusiastically supportive? Your feelings are a major part of the
message your audience will remember. So be clear and honest about your feelings,
because it’s pretty hard to convince others if you haven’t convinced yourself. Once
you’ve identified your “Role” and your “Feelings” let that awareness inform your
choices as you proceed to develop your speech, presentation, program. Then,
Begin very broadly to construct your Presentation or Speech. Write everything down,
and I mean every thought, idea(original or borrowed), quote, fact, and opinion. Don’t
edit anything out, there’s time for that later. Usually when I’m working in this stage I’m
not on my computer. I like to work with a very large art-pad with a black rollerball pen,
avoiding big felt-tips because they tend to bleed through the paper. I can easily cross-
out stu!, draw arrows, box-in information, jot a thought adjacent to a fact...it’s all
flexible, fluid & fast. I stay with this part until I’ve recorded everything I’ve collected,
onto that pad. When you’re done, sit back, take a look at it, and then take a break.
*(Check my Show#23 for further guidance on this.)
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“Can I Avoid Looking Foolish When I Speak?”
Tom j Dolan
When you return to your accumulation of information, begin to bring order to it. Think
of it as a story having a Beginning, Middle, & End. Now, at this stage I’m usually
moving all my information into my computer. Proceed in a logical, linear style,
assembling all your facts, statistics, images, charts, quotes, everything. Be clever. You
know what you want to say, so let everything you’ve assembled help you say it. Don’t
bother with precise order or wording, just get the ideas out of your head and “on
paper”. Now for me, the next part is one of the most productive and important parts of
this entire process.
Let your project breathe. Leave it alone again, this time for a day or so. You may find
this di"cult to do, but it’s a productive habit to have and if you haven’t developed it,
this is a good time to begin. Let this also be a reason why you don’t want to
procrastinate and put o! any project till the very last minute. This break period is
important, factor it in.
When you just can’t stay away any longer,
Return to your project and begin the Edit. You should feel renewed clarity & energy. But
before you cut anything, make a double-spaced Copy and work on that. Now go
ahead, replace, add-cut, trim, reassemble, reword, and most importantly…simplify.
Attack it with energy, with Gusto! When you feel like you’ve done enough repair, or
you’re out of ideas, it’s time once again to leave it alone. Put it down and walk away.
Frankly, I’ve discovered great rewards in the rewrite and edit. If anyone in my past ever
suggested the value and joy in the rewrite or the edit, well, it flew right past me. But
I’ve discovered it’s a rewarding, creative time, and always time well spent.
So once again you return and there “it” is sitting on your computer desktop or possibly
still on paper on your analog desktop. Check over the current version. A re-write isn’t
chiseled in stone. It can be re-written further, but I advise you to be careful about being
overly critical. At some point, Editing has to Stop. Now,
This is a good time to Print-out your results. Holding your project in your hands really
feels like you’ve made significant progress. You’ve created this project you’re now
holding, and it wouldn’t exist without you. That’s a satisfying thought.
So moving along, you must, and this is very important, you must,
Practice reading it out-loud. Not silently, not in a whisper, but reading out-loud to
yourself. During these practice sessions or rehearsals, avoid working in front of a
mirror, timing with a stopwatch, performing for friends, or video-taping your
performance. There’s no reason to have your attention on anything other than your
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words, concepts, and construction. Read it again, and then again. How do the words
feel in your mouth? How does it sound to you? Speak with a commitment and energy
appropriate to the topic and the event. How do you like it...is it You? You'll know.
Practice but don't endlessly rehearse it. Practice too much and you risk diminishing
your sense of spontaneity and freshness. Make notes between the double-spaced
lines, then,
As before, let it breathe for awhile. When you return this time it’s ok to keep an eye on
the clock to get some idea of the time you’re going to use. Unless you have a
confirmed time-limit, or you’re in some competition where seconds are critical, a stop
watch is probably unnecessary. When you feel comfortable Speaking your creation,
and before you speak all the life out of it, Stop. Commit to it as it is.
By now, you should feel intellectually and emotionally connected to your script, and it
truly is yours. Your feelings, your design, your words, preparation, and practice. Now is
the time to determine how you’re going to deliver the result to an audience. Naturally
you want to make a good presentation but just as importantly, you want to make a
connection with your audience and earn their support.
Let’s look at your options. Five come to mind.
Are you going to memorize it? Will you stand behind a Lectern and read it? Should you
use notecards as a guide? Maybe you’ll just throw caution to the wind and speak
extemporaneously. There is fifth option but fortunately it’s been discouraged. You were
told by the event promoter You shouldn’t deliver a Power Point presentation and
frankly that’s most often good advice.
Remember, your concern here is to “avoid looking foolish” when you speak. With that
in mind let’s briefly look at the remaining four options.
Memorizing a Speech or Presentation is typically the worst of the four options. Unless
you regularly memorize long presentations, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll fumble,
forget, or get lost somewhere along the way. If you do, in all likelihood you will begin to
feel confused, embarrassed, and really lost. Talk about “feeling foolish.” And if that
happens, this is one of those moments that compounds into actually looking foolish. I
strongly suggest against memorizing. Besides memorized speeches usually sound un-
natural, lifeless or boring, and with that, you can easily lose your audience. There are
better options.
One of them is Reading your script. With adequate practice, you shouldn’t lose your
place and you should sound “Natural”. There are some downsides to Reading your
speech. Maintaining good audience eye-contact is di"cult. Physically, you’re a
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bobbing head and that can be distracting. And too, you’re restricted to the lectern. You
can’t move about much. But the chances of you looking foolish are almost nil.
(Guidance for Reading a script, see my Show#14.)
Notecards is another very good option. If you’re comfortable with your grasp of the
script, this is a very good choice. You can maintain e!ective eye-contact with your
audience and move about the stage. You can present both ideas and emotions more
spontaneously. With practice, it can sound very conversational. There’s a good
example of a speaker at a TED event using notecards very e!ectively. You can see it
here. Watch it for instructive techniques.
And lastly, you can Speak extemporaneously. Actually this is very e!ective if you’re well
prepared and experienced Speaking to groups. Don’t fool yourself into thinking this is
the easiest way. It’s definitely not. If you wander o! message, you may struggle
attempting to regain your footing which may not happen expeditiously. Uncomfortable
for you, uncomfortable for the audience. In that case you might sound foolish even
unprepared, unprofessional and possibly untrustworthy. It’s best to Avoid this choice
until you’re technically ready. You’ll know when.
So let’s briefly review your accomplishments so far:
1. You defined your “Role” for this event, you acknowledged your “Feelings” for the
event and you collected the information you’re going to deliver. With this,
2. You constructed your script, critically rewrote & edited it, producing a result you’re
pleased with. You rehearsed the words until they felt comfortable when spoken.
And finally, you chose a delivery style that’s appropriate for the event and
comfortable for you to use.
3. Your task now is to remain focused on your script and the reason you're delivering
it. Your attention is not focused on You but on the result you want. Deliver that to
your audience with sincerity, honesty, and commitment, and your Performance of
Speaking will be well received. Do that, and you won’t have time to ‘feel foolish’
when Speaking. Finally, enjoy the result, you created it.
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Tom j Dolan, the Author, is a media professional and the producer of
“Performance of Speaking” an educational & informative website
devoted to Training & Coaching Speakers who want to contribute to
the global conversations shaping the future of our Communities,
Regions, and Planet.

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