The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 24, 2014

Career Coach: Giving a speech? Prepare

By Ken White
Special to The Washington Post

— If you saw the video, you know that it is painful to watch. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month, Hollywood director Michael Bay was a part of a scripted interview in front of an audience.

Soon after Bay got on stage, his teleprompter died. Bay was then forced to wing it. His on-stage host asked questions such as, "Where do you get your unbelievable ideas?" This was not a hard-hitting interview. Despite that, Bay was unable to answer the questions without the assistance of a teleprompter on which his answers were supposed to appear.

You cannot help but squirm when viewing the video. It is all but impossible not to feel badly for Bay. But, the teleprompter is not to blame. Bay committed a major communication sin when he took the stage. He was unprepared. He had not practiced enough. Unfortunately, his lack of preparation has led to a less-than-flattering video that is being viewed around the world.

Anytime you have the opportunity to speak in public, it is extremely important that you take that opportunity very seriously. Public speaking is one of the most effective ways to build your personal brand and your reputation. Impress the audience and they will remember you in a positive manner.

Regardless of the public speaking opportunity — a media interview, a presentation, the introduction of a speaker — there are five steps to successful communication you should follow in order to turn the opportunity into a major win.

Step One: Think and plan.When you are asked to deliver a presentation, do you go directly to PowerPoint and start working on slides? That is the last thing you should do. Step one involves planning and thought. Think about the event. Write down your thoughts and create an outline or road map. What type of communication activity is expected? What are your time limitations? Do you know the venue? How do you plan to impress the audience? Think first. Work on the details later.

Step Two: Killer content. People remember substance. Share interesting and relevant content and your audience will be grateful. Give them something they don't already know. Give them something to think about after you are long gone.

Step Three: Be audience-centered. Consider your expectations for this communication activity. What do you want to accomplish? Be different. Be better than others. You also need to give careful thought to the audiences' expectations. What are they hoping to receive? Be audience-centric. People will want to know what is in it for them. When you put the audience before yourself, you cannot help but win. Once you understand the expectations then work to give the audience a meaningful experience.

Step Four: Put it all together. You have the general outline and excellent content. You have given a great deal of thought to relevance and the audience as well as your goals. Now it is time to put it together. Be prepared to make changes and edits as you work. When you think you are done, walk away for a day or two and come back for a review and a possible refresh.

Step Five: Practice. You have the plan and content. Now you need to devote time to practice. This step is absolutely critical. Record your practice sessions. When you review the video, you will be able to detect and correct any delivery or content issues that require improvement. Practice often, but not to the point where your words are memorized. Presenting in public is about communicating. Your goal is to have a conversation with your audience. In addition, if you have the appropriate amount of practice time under your belt you will be able to handle a malfunctioning teleprompter, a major technological glitch, or anything else that might come you way.

Taking a public speaking opportunity for granted is a big mistake, even for those who speak often and feel confident in their communication abilities. Your audience has invested time and effort. They deserve thoughtful and relevant comments and content. They deserve a professional presentation. They want a speaker who possesses substance, style and passion. Following the five steps will help you meet and exceed their expectations. Investing time in high quality practice and self-evaluation will help you succeed even when faced with an unexpected hurdle.

White is the associate dean of MBA and MS Programs at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. He teaches executive communication to graduates students, executives, companies and organizations. Prior to joining the Smith School, he was vice president for communication and marketing at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.