« 7. EQ skills: Five key steps in speech preparation »

Written by Rachel Green. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute. She is the author of "Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking" and is one of only 800 people in the world with the highest level of accreditation in the professional speaking industry - CSP - Certified Speaking Professional.

How you prepare your speech can make an enormous difference to your public speaking confidence and success. Are you preparing in the best way?

Practising outloud is an important part of preparationYour preparation needs to draw on many skills including those of emotional intelligence and EQ.

Once you have decided on your key content, as you prepare, you also need to consider the emotional outcome you want from your presentation. This draws on your emotional intelligence.

Then you have to decide how you are going to create the outcome you want, which again will draw on your emotional intelligence skills, in combination with your cognitive skills.

You also need to know how you are going to manage your own emotions and yourself.

Of course, preparation helps deliver a good speech; however it is not as simple as people make out. What really matters is not that you prepare, but how and what you prepare.

Preparation is not just about your content. It is also about your audience, your delivery style, and yourself. It is about knowing your outcomes, both emotional and cognitive, and preparing a way to achieve them.

In fact, Jack Elliott, in a radio interview on the ABC with Gillian O'Shaughnessy in May 2012 summed it up perfectly when he said speaking is a marketing exercise. You have something to sell to the audience and you have to turn it into something they want to buy. This is all part of preparation.

There are five key aspects of preparation that I think particularly help and which draw on quite simple emotional intelligence and EQ skills.

EQ skills 1: Speak first, write second

A speech is a verbal task - something that you will talk out loud. Therefore, it can help in preparing a speech if you capture your normal speech style, words, phrases and grammatical structures.

Many people, in contrast, prepare a written document and then try to speak it. They take their pen and write out words and phrases as if they were preparing a report or memo.

A written document is not the same as a spoken speech. It usually contains more formal sentence structures, and more complicated words and phrases than oral speech does.

One of the steps in preparing a speech, therefore, is to speak your thoughts out loud before you write them down. Wander around your house or office explaining out loud what you want to say. Then capture what you've said and take notes. If you record what you've said on a dictaphone or digital recorder this can make it even easier.

The tip for good speech writing and preparation is therefore: speak first, write second.

If you want to be confident in front of an audience it makes more sense to prepare in the way that you will deliver your speech, rather than to prepare it in one modality and then translate it into a different one.

While you are preparing, consider the emotional impact on yourself of what you do, and ask yourself, "Will this make it easier for me or harder?". Make it as easy as you can, while doing a brilliant job.

Being able to predict your own emotional responses is an important part of emotional intelligence on the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso emotional intelligence model and it aids in speech preparation.

Want to engage your audience more easily and make your presentations more interesting? Book into our public speaking development package.

EQ skills 2: Research your audience in advance

A second and very important part of speech writing and preparation is to research your audience. Find out about your audience in advance and then adapt your speech to best suit them.

The more you know about them beforehand the more confident you can be that your speech is right for them. In other words you can manage your own emotions in a positive way by researching your audience. This is emotionally intelligent.

The kind of questions you might want to answer beforehand include:

  • How many people will there be?
  • What are the ages of the audience?
  • What gender are they?
  • Where do they work or live?
  • What is their occupational background, profession and position?
  • Do they speak English and at what level?
  • What is their level of education?
  • What do they already know about your topic?
  • What do they not know?
  • What myths or misunderstandings do they have on the topic?
  • What do they want to know?
  • What do they want to do with your information?
  • Why do they want you to speak as opposed to other speakers in your area?
  • What problems do they have in the area of your topic?
  • What solutions have they already tried?
  • Why are they coming to the presentation?

Once you've got this information, then adapt your speech to your audience. Your audience will be more likely to listen when they know it is relevant to them. If your audience is listening you will feel better than if they are feeling disinterested.

I know it sounds such a simple EQ or emotional intelligence tip, but I am often amazed how many public speakers do not research their audience. Then they are dismayed that their speech was not well received.

It doesn't take a lot of emotional intelligence to work out that there is a connection between your knowledge of the audience and your ability to deliver a relevant speech, does it? However, when people have presentation anxiety they can forget to focus on their audience and instead focus too much on their content.

EQ skills 3: Practise your speech out loud

Speaking in public is just that - it's speaking. Therefore, don't fall into the trap of writing everything down and not practising saying it.

Say your speech out loud. Wander around your office or your home speaking it out loud. Talk to the walls. Your bookcase. Your light switches. Talk to the room you're in.

Too many poor public speakers invest a lot of time practising their speeches in their heads.

You need to speak your speech and hear yourself articulating the words, you need to help your lips and tongue get used to the words and phrasing, you need to oil the connections between your mouth and your brain.

When you do practise speaking your speech out loud, make sure you are speaking as if there is an audience present. Don't just run through mumbling under your breath.

Instead make it loud, pace it well, make it strong. Use inflections in your voice. Pause. Look around as you speak. Practise saying it in a way that sounds confident, that sounds real, that would be a credit to you on the day of the presentation.

On the day you will already be familiar with what you are about to say and this can help you settle your nerves, and be articulate and convincing.

Want to improve your confidence as a public speaker so your audience wants to listen to you? Book into our public speaking development package

EQ skills 4: Practise your speech with a group of friends

Speech preparation includes being able to anticipate difficult situations that may arise and working out how you will deal with them, so that if they do occur on the day you can handle them smoothly.

One fun but highly useful step in preparation is to collect a group of friends or colleagues together and ask them to be your audience on which you practise your speech.

However, don't just ask them to sit there and be complacent and enthusiastic. Instead, say that you want to practise staying composed and speaking while they appear disinterested, bored or critical. If you want to go all the way, then practise handling their hostile questions as well.

Once you've done all this speech practice with your friends, you'll probably find your real audiences are far nicer and easier!

So many public speakers fear being asked difficult or hostile questions; therefore become comfortable with this happening during your preparation, and then it will seem less scary on the day.

Again, this is a way of helping you to manage your own emotions and to deliver a great speech. It is a practical application of emotional intelligence techniques to public speaking. So much of public speaking is about our emotional reactions to it, and managing these is an important part of preparation.

EQ skills 5: Check out your venue and equipment

A fifth aspect of speech preparation which will help build your confidence is to practise being physically comfortable in the venue you will be speaking in.

If you are going to speak in a large hall with a high ceiling and a long distance between yourself and the back row, for instance, then practise speaking in large spaces over distance.

If you've not got a relevant building you can borrow, then you can do what I started doing and practise in an open-air space. For instance, I used to go down to the beach and practise talking to the seagulls! When you can feel confident and comfortable speaking outdoors, with your voice disappearing into the wind or the waves, it will probably help you speak anywhere.

The point is, don't only practise in your office or lounge room otherwise you might get thrown by a bigger space. By predicting the situations that will "throw you" you can work out during your preparation how to feel settled in them. Again, emotional intelligence involves being able to predict your own emotions, and working out how best to manage them.

I find it helpful to go along before a speech to familiarise myself with each venue I'm speaking in, whether it's the night before or during a lunch or tea break. Also, while I'm there I practise using the equipment, standing at the lectern, looking into the lights.

Whatever I will use at the event I try out beforehand where at all possible.

Practice can make perfect - as long as you are practising the right thing in the right way. Remember always to include the emotional aspects of presenting in your preparation and to muster all your emotional intelligence skills for the cause.

How to improve your public speaking now.

Can you afford to have you or your team unable to engage their audiences? No! Organisations need to be represented by engaging speakers in order to get their message across as swiftly and effectively as possible. This applies to you if you are an executive or a manager too - do not bore your employees, your stakeholders or your board. We have a number of options to help you:

  1. Book into our public speaking development package.
  2. There is a definitive guide: "The beginners guide to being a brilliant MC".
  3. Read the book "Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking".

For more details or to make a booking e-mail us now or pick up the phone and call us.