I’m a very meticulous public speaker. Even though one part of me wants to go extempore, talk off the cuff and sound all grandiose, another part of me knows the beauty of a perfect script.
Of course there are times when you have to go off script. Like yesterday, when I spoke in front of a group of Rotary Club members in South Mumbai. I had gone all planned, a PowerPoint presentation of 20 short slides, a script that I had gone through a couple of times before taking the mic, and a feeling of confidence running through me when I reached.
And then mid-way through the talk, the laptop got discharged… There went my flow of thoughts… The essence of my talk lay in those slides… Moreover, anything visual gives the audience something else to look at other than you.
I almost always plan for technology giving way, and carry the complete notes I need for a talk. But what one doesn’t plan for is the disconnection in the flow of thoughts that you experience when interruptions like these take place. That’s when you realise the importance of improvisation in any situation.
In public speaking particularly, you don’t know when you’ll get caught off guard, or when you’ll be thrown a question that you either don’t know how to answer, or don’t want to answer. At these times, you need to bank on your conversational skills, your ability to be tactful, dip into your reserves of knowledge, and structure a satisfactory response.
Public speaking has many elements to it, like your diction, voice modulation, body language and a well-crafted script. But at the heart of it lies your ability to connect and engage your audience. This comes with a lot of practice. Before a speaking engagement one is always unsure of the outcome, but the important part is to get on that stage and give it your best. Even though I don’t always feel confident about public speaking, I never shirk from it…like any other skill, you only get better with practice.
You also needn’t feel hesitant about your diction or fluency… If you have a good story to tell, your message will get across. Lastly, go prepared for the worst, try becoming independent of the aids you have, bank instead on your inherent knowledge and confidence. Most audiences are extremely receptive and they can tell when a speaker is unfazed or not, so don’t get too affected by disruptions. Calm your nerves, and get back into the rhythm of your talk once again. Make sure no pause is too long or else the audience will lose interest in you.
The laptop took some time to restart, but I continued talking, I elaborated some more on the points, just to buy time till I got the slides back once again. The disruption indeed taught me an important lesson in public speaking: when in front of a crowd, learn to improvise!
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