Stress Free Public Speaking
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Copyright 2005 Larry Tracy About the Author This article is excerpted from Larry Tracy’s book, The Shortcut to Persuasive Presentations. Larry, a retired Army colonel, was called “an extraordinarily effective speaker” by President Ronald Reagan. He has been cited in numerous publications as one of the top presentation skills trainers in the US. His website is at top of Google for “persuasive presentations. Visit it for FREE tips and articles:
I recently posted an article providing tips on public speaking for internet marketers, and was bombarded with Emails asking me to expand on one tip in particular—how to conduct a Murder Board, a realistic simulated practice. I did so in a follow-up article providing a more detailed explanation of this practice method, which has its origins in the US military. Now, below, I provide the seven step method to conduct this invaluable practice. This is excerpted from Chapter 14 of my book, The Shortcut to Persuasive Presentations.
To have a successful and productive Murder Board enabling you to hone your skills and anticipate the difficult questions and comments requiring a response, I have found seven separate steps must be followed.
2. Sharing audience Intelligence
3. Role-playing by participants
4. Video-taping and/or audio-taping
5. Critique of presenter's Style and Substance
6. Recording on cards of all questions asked
7. Revision of the presentation
Let's take a look at each of these steps.
In recruiting people to be on your Murder Board, the best place to start is with knowledgeable colleagues. Request no more than four of these colleagues to be your simulated audience.
Keep in mind, however, that if these colleagues think that the objective of the Murder Board is only to help you look good, they probably will not want to give up their valuable time. You must give them an incentive tied to their self-interest.
They will have their own priorities. You should frame your request in such a way that these colleagues see a potential dividend accruing to them by investing their time. Remember from your own experience that "What's in it for me?" is the prime motivator for people to take action. You must find a way to have these colleagues believe they will gain some benefit by being in your simulated audience.
Reciprocity is the key. My advice is to recruit only people who themselves will speak in public.. Then you say, "If you will be on my Murder Board now, I will be on yours when you must make a presentation." Presto. They see a potential benefit in the future by spending some time with you now.
2. Sharing Audience Intelligence
Because the purpose of a Murder Board is to create an environment for the presenter similar to the actual situation to be faced, it is important that those playing the members of the audience be armed with as much information about this audience as possible.
Participants must be steeped in the details of the issue being presented so they can put themselves in the mental framework of the people who will be in your actual audience. Information on the personal styles, idiosyncrasies, temperament, etc. of these audience members provides insight into how they will react to certain comments or proposals. Your colleagues can better role-play if they have this information. The more you know about personalities of audience members, the less surprised you will be in the presentation.
3. Role-playing by participants
The success or failure of a Murder Board ultimately depends on its realism. The closer it is to the real thing, the better prepared will be the presenter. This realism, to a great degree, depends on the ability of your colleagues to get into the heads of the key players in your actual audience.
This does not mean having a great gift for acting or mimicry; but it does mean trying to think like the people in the audience so that statements made by the presenter will provoke questions likely to be asked by the actual audience.
After sharing all the intelligence gained on the audience, and eliciting from participants any insights they have on these people, assign specific roles to participants. If you are presenting to senior executives, you most certainly want a person to play the key decision maker.
4. Video-taping / audio-taping
The actual conduct of the Murder Board is likely to not run smoothly, with various interruptions and discussions. Moreover, the presenter cannot be expected to remember all the comments, bits of advice, and questions asked. Consequently, much of the spontaneous, valuable information could be lost, even if someone is taking careful notes.
It is beneficial to have both a video camera and a tape recorder running, during the practice presentation. This will provide a "game film" enabling you to see and hear yourself as your audience will see and hear you.
Perhaps the fundamental benefit of recording the practice session is that you will have a record of the questions asked in the give-and-take of the presentation, as well as your answers. Without an electronic record, the questions stimulated by your presentation, and your answers, could be lost, thereby negating many of the benefits of the Murder Board.
5. Critique of presenter's Style and Substance
You have now completed your Murder Board, and, in the process, have used the valuable time of your colleagues. Now is the time to ask them for a robust critique of the substance of your presentation and your delivery style.
Keep the video camera and tape recorder rolling. These colleagues may be more expert in certain aspects of your presentation than you are, and you certainly want to tap into this expertise.
Additionally, they have just seen you presenting in a stressful environment - presenting before your colleagues may be more difficult than before potential customers - and their comments on how you looked, how you sounded, and your overall presence can be invaluable. Thank them for giving up their time, and remind them that you are ready to pay back when their time comes to make an important presentation.
6. Recording all questions asked on cards
Now it is just you, a VCR, a tape recorder and a stack of 3x5 cards. Why the cards? Because you are now going to go through the painful process of listening to how you answered the questions posed by your colleagues. Place each question asked on the front side of a 3x5 card. On the back - in pencil - place the answer you gave, or a better one if it occurs to you now, and it probably will. Why pencil? Because you are going to come up with better answers the more you think and research.
When you are at home watching television, have that stack of cards nearby. When a commercial comes on the screen, select a card at random, look at the question, give an answer, and turn the card over. If your new answer is better than the one on the back of the card, make the correction.
Go through this procedure a few times, seeking each time to improve your answer so that you not only address the specifics of the question, but also find ways to reinforce your main points.
Following this procedure will do much to remove the fear of the unanticipated question, which has such a direct influence on fear of public speaking.
7. Revise the presentation
Having completed your Murder Board, you are now faced with a dilemma. What do you do with all the new data generated by this most intense practice session? What if the audience doesn't ask the questions for which you have developed such great answers? Do you just leave this information in your files?
The answer is a resounding NO. Remember, your responsibility as a presenter is to provide maximum relevant information in minimum time in the clearest manner possible.
You must make a judgment as to which information best fits your objective and the informational needs of your audience. Some of the material you had originally had in your presentation may well have to be dropped, replaced by information that surfaced as a result of questions and discussions in the Murder Board.
The bottom line on the Murder Board
You need to conduct a Murder Board for the same reason that professional football teams, despite having injured players who could benefit from a rest, go through physically demanding practice sessions before the next game.
It is foolish to deliver an important presentation without going through an intense Murder Board. The wise presenter realizes that he or she should put as much effort into the presentation as has been put into the product or service being sold.
Copyright 2005 Larry Tracy
About the Author
This article is excerpted from Larry Tracy’s book, The Shortcut to Persuasive Presentations. Larry, a retired Army colonel, was called “an extraordinarily effective speaker” by President Ronald Reagan. He has been cited in numerous publications as one of the top presentation skills trainers in the US. His website is at top of Google for “persuasive presentations. Visit it for FREE tips and articles:
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