"Like I said"

I am heading into a few speeches in the next few weeks, and it helps to remind myself of speaking lessons learned the hard way over the years. 

•Never use the above phrase, "like I said." Avoid it like the plague. To the person who utters the phrase, it feels like a needed apology for repeating an idea. To the audience, however, it sounds like you are quoting your immortal self. Better to simply restate what you said before in new terms. Speakers exaggerate how much actually sinks in on the first hearing, and assume the audience needs no repetition. The audience, however, is distracted by thoughts of food, the need to find a bathroom, the tickle in their nose, the latecomer poking their head in the side door, and they usually are grateful for repetition, at least if it is decently disguised by new phrasing. No need to apologize for restating an important concept, especially when the apology comes across as its exact opposite.

•Never use the phrase "I will get to that later," or worse, "I will go over that in more detail in a bit." True as it may be, the phrase creates dread in the audience by making it seem as if the speech will go on forever. If you happen to prematurely hit upon a concept you had planned to develop later, develop it now and get it out of the way rather than announce that you are tabling the issue for later in the meeting, thus activating every audience's visceral fear that the meeting will never end. 

•Never, ever read your own powerpoint presentation. By doing so, you remove all hope for a pleasant surprise, which is really what keeps the audience from getting restless. More importantly still, do not hand out a copy of your powerpoint presentation ahead of time and then embark upon a painstaking reading out loud what is already in the hands of the audience. I have been to presentations where the speaker handed out a 46 page copy of the power point presentation, only to take 45 minutes to "go over" the first six pages. I get angry in advance at the probability that the speaker will take as long as needed to finish the next forty pages, ignoring the audience's bathroom needs, hunger issues and attention span deficiencies. Even when the powerpoint-dependent speaker ends on time, I get angry at the lack of planning which gave short shrift to the last forty pages, which were skimmed in the last fifteen minutes.  Or, I wish they'd just let me leave with the handout if all they were going to do was read from it. 

•Never treat questions as a divergence from what you might think is the real mission––finishing the speech as it was prepared. In other words, never say or think, "now, where was I?" after answering an audience question. Instead, treat the question as a needed wake up call to get you back on track with what the audience wants to hear. Questions provide valuable insight into what the audience wants. If a query is truly outside of the realm of your speech, just say, "I don't know," and move on. But if a question merely causes you to jump ahead in your speech, go with it. If you are really prepared and know your stuff, you can surf countless questions with ease. To say "I'll get to that, just wait" is to have contempt for the audience, which, given the "get to the point" question, probably doesn't need or want to hear your entire preamble. 

Of course, the fear in jumping ahead is that your whole speech will dissolve into nothing and you will finish forty minutes before the end of the hour. If you love your topic and know it inside out, however, you can go back and pick up the points you missed, if need be. 

•If the previous speaker eats into your time, be grateful and end at the exact minute you would have ended if you had your entire hour. Brevity is the soul of wit. By taking more than their share of the time and forcing (allowing?) you to be brief, the previous speaker is making you more and more popular simply by comparison––as long as you don't repeat their mistake and instead respect the audience's desire to leave at the long-anticipated hour. If you know your topic, you can get to the pith of it in ten minutes as easily as in an hour. 

Preparation improves improvisation, but improvisation without preparation is the stuff bad dreams are made of.