Interview with Lisa Braithwaite

Part 1

Lisa Braithwaite

Q. In your blog post "Five things speakers can learn from event planners," you shared a little bit about a couple of people you know:

I have two clients who are event planners. They create amazing social and corporate events as well as weddings that would charm your socks off. If you've ever been to a conference, a wedding, a large fundraiser, a political rally, or a memorial service, chances are an event planner was involved. All event planners have one thing in common: No matter how complicated or difficult the planning and organization, they make the event appear seamless.

You then went on and talked about the things that we can learn from event planners. "Preparing for a speech" isn't a one-time event - little things like the experiences and observations you've talked about contribute to what we say. How does public speaking relate to your day-to-day life?

A. I'm constantly inspired by everyday occurrences as analogies for public speaking, as in the event planner post. If I'm watching a cycling race or the Emmys or eating in a restaurant or reading a sign in the emergency room, I'm always thinking about how my readers and clients can use these everyday lessons to help them be better speakers. Besides that, public speaking impacts my life every day, because we're always public speaking, every one of us! Every phone call, every communication, I'm trying to be clear, concise, assertive and get my message across. Gotta practice what I preach!

Q. Along those same lines, does your day-to-day life give you inspiration for things you could say? How so?

A. I think I just answered this, above. Also, see here for how I'm constantly inspired by everyday experiences: Three Steps For Adding Analogies.

Q. How do you, personally, prepare to give a speech?

A. First of all, I don't give speeches. I give presentations, trainings and workshops. I consider a "speech" to be a one-way lecture to or at a group, like at a wedding or a banquet. I do very few of those.

If I'm lucky, I get to research my audience in advance and can start my preparations already knowing something about what their needs are. I have questionnaires for this.

I start with a basic outline: an opening, a body with three main points (to begin with), and a closing. I flesh out my main points with sub-points, supporting stories and data.

If I'm creating a PowerPoint, I will often use the story template from Cliff Atkinson's book "Beyond Bullet Points." The story template is similar to a regular outline, but also builds a series of opening and closing slides to set the scene for the presentation.

I usually start this process about two months before the event, if I have that much time. I like to walk away from it several times during planning and not think about it for a few days while it settles into my subconscious.

When I come back to the outline, I start looking at activities and audience interactions I can add to help illustrate my points. I look for the best places to ask questions, to record audience reactions on my flip chart, to break into pairs or groups, and to add any games or fun activities.

I prepare my opening and closing last, after the body feels mostly complete. If I'm unable to research my audience in advance, I use part of my opening to ask questions and learn about the audience. If I'm creating a PowerPoint, this is when I start looking for images.

About two weeks before the event, I start practicing and editing. I make notes about timing, stories, examples, and other triggers that will help me remember what I want to say. During this time, I also collect any props, toys or visual aids I'll need. I cut anything that's too long or extraneous to my main message.

I practice from the outline or bullet points, but I never write out exactly what I'm going to say or memorize exact paragraphs or wording. I know the material inside out, but the outline is what triggers my thoughts. I also don't practice every day. I like to leave a day or two in between practices, so that my brain gets a chance to absorb the content during my sleep and when I'm not actually thinking about it, and I feel fresh when I look at it again.

In the last couple of days, I will practice the presentation three or four times total, making sure I have a time cushion for the inevitable questions and activities that go longer than expected. I don't like to practice the day before; I need to be done at least two days before the engagement. I don't practice gestures or movements. I feel that those will come naturally in the moment, especially in a workshop or seminar setting where theatrics would be out of place.

I prepare the opening and closing carefully and practice those sections for maximum impact. The last thing I want is a weak opening or a forgettable closing, so these sections are the only memorized part of the presentation.

The rest of the presentation doesn't fully come together until I'm with my audience. After all, a presentation is a living thing. It's a conversation that requires both parties to give it life.

I bring my notes to the workshop and refer to them as necessary, using a document stand off to the side. My notes are usually only one page, sometimes double-sided, longer if I'm doing an all-day training. With notes, I'm assured that if I lose my place I can always find it again! My notes also remind me to mention things like my newsletter signup or upcoming events. I carry a large file box that's got all my supplies: presentation remote, batteries, noisemakers, candy, handouts, pens, timers, toys, etc., and I make sure it's packed a day or two in advance.

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That's all for today, folks! Read her answer to that last question a couple of times - there is a lot of good advice in there.

Continue to Speak Schmeak. Check it out for some good public speaking reading.

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