As we prepared to take off from Cincinnati to Buffalo, the flight attendant rattled through her welcome speech so quickly that she was totally unintelligible. The clear message we did receive, however, was that she was bored with giving that speech on every flight. I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar.
In contrast, we toured the home in Buffalo where Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as President after President McKinley’s death. The docent there was excited about his topic and his enthusiasm was contagious. He gave the feeling that he’d just discovered all this great information and couldn’t wait to share it with us, though he has worked there for several years.
If you speak very much, you tend to keep in your speech what works well and what is comfortable for you. However, to continue to be enthusiastic and appear fresh and current, you need to regularly add new material. Here are some ways to keep looking for material that will add depth and relevance to your content.
Talk to people who have different backgrounds. They can give you a fresh approach to material you know a lot about. For example, I recently had a conversation with the president of a private university. He talked about some of the ways they are reaching the community, including persuading city fathers to make significant community announcements from their campus. This demonstrated that the university was integrating itself effectively into the community and becoming a force there. Since I am in a public university that also seeks to reach out to the community, I appreciated this different approach to reaching the same goal.
Read in areas outside your expertise. I subscribe to Field and Stream although I am a minimal fisherman. Reading about hunting strategies for different wildlife and the kinds of equipment needed gives me information I had never thought about before.
Another way of finding fresh material is to research a current event. A couple of years ago when I read about the suddenness of the tsunami that hit Thailand, I found that there were no large animals destroyed; they had all moved to higher ground. There seems to be a sixth sense in animals that allows them to anticipate danger and remove themselves. In one of my speeches I talk about the importance of being attentive to the events around us as we go through the day. I can incorporate the animals’ movements as an example of paying attention.
This month, race car drivers are qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. It is fascinating to contemplate how a driver can go around a track at over 225 miles per hour. Reading background information about the race might provide me with an idea or example for my next presentation.
Another way of finding creative material to is to become involved in some activity that you fear. Because of fear in this area, you probably have avoided learning about it. Confront your fear, and you will also become educated in that area.
I often coach in presentation skills people who have avoided speaking for years because of their fear. But once they start learning and practicing, they usually manage to cope with their fear of public speaking. In the process, they also learn a lot about techniques in giving presentations. Some even come to enjoy it!
I have a tremendous fear of heights, but the times when I have made myself face that fear—by climbing to the top of Ayers Rock, or most recently going to a look-out point at the top of Niagara Falls—I have learned not only about fascinating aspects of nature, but also the kinds of feelings I have when facing that fear.
A final way to add new material to your next presentation is through observation. Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” On your drive to work or to your client, look around you for things that might be happening that you could relate to in a speech.
For example, near where I live a construction company is excavating a large residential area to build a shopping mall. As these older houses are razed, we see basement openings and configurations of trees in different stages of being bulldozed and pulled out. Watching how debris is removed and how a hill is being leveled are uncommon sights for most of us who drive by. A picture of a house foundation or of a 100-year-old tree being felled might be an attention device to demonstrate change, often a common topic in corporate speeches.
As you can see, there are many ways of adding new content to keep fresh and engaging the ideas you present on a regular basis. There is no excuse for a speaker to sound bored as he or she presents ideas, even though they have been shared a dozen times before. Simply plug in at appropriate places comparisons, statistics, stories, and slides which have been obtained in any of the several ways described in this article. To your attentive audience, you will sound as though you are delivering the material for the first time.
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is a professor of speech communication at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky, and pulpit minister of the Central Church, Cincinnati, Ohio. He works with organizations that want to speak and listen more effectively to increase personal and professional performance. He can be reached at 800-727-6520, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.sboyd.com for free articles and resources to improve your communication skills.