by Geoffrey Churchman

Public speaking is something I’ve taken an interest in since the 1980s when I realised that good spoken communication skills could be, and often were, an important factor in business success. That decade I participated in several organised public debates on a range of serious and frivolous subjects. I’ve also analysed several politicians from that aspect over the years.

  1. Slow down

When you’re given a fixed time limit of 3 or 5 minutes, the temptation is always to speed up to say as much as you can in the time allotted. A mistake. It’s better to be remembered for a few key points than to remembered for nothing because it all went past people as a blur. One of the things I was taught 40 years ago was to be slow and deliberate, and the teacher played the opening narration from Jeff Wayne’s “The War of the Worlds” as a good example:

2. Adjust your speaking volume to fit the venue

Not all venues have good acoustics — the Waikanae Community Centre, which is the normal venue for WCB meetings, is particularly bad.

The KCDC council chamber is also bad, but it has a microphone amplification system which deals with that problem.

If you have any doubt that you can be heard at the back of the room, then don’t hesitate to ask at the outset.

3. Give a practice run of your speech to someone

This is not just for the timing, but also that the things you say will be clear to the listener, in both senses. Are there some words for which your pronunciation needs practice? Dear Leader of Jacindaland must have been given some elocution lessons since 2017. And of course, listen to a recording of yourself.

4. Consider what words should be given extra emphasis

These should be given momentary time separation — there are examples in “The War of the Worlds” intro.

5. There is a place for satire and humour but don’t overdo it.

The risk is that overly focusing on other people’s views in this way will cloud the important things in what you have to say.

6. If possible, avoid reading from a script

It risks breaking interpersonal connection. By maintaining eye contact with the audience, you keep the focus on yourself and your message. Small cue cards that you quickly glance down at on the lecturn provide a list of points if short term memory is an issue (and the older you are the more it is). Sometimes you need to quote statistics, but then put the paper down.