Take a role in public speaking

June 1, 1997

Pharmaceutical Representative

Find your stage personality.

Public speaking may well be the No. 1 fear among people in business today. Face it: All but the most accomplished speakers have difficulty predicting the quality of the impression they'll make on an audience. They're afraid of appearing inadequate, uninformed or foolish in front of others.

The best speakers minimize their fear by fashioning "stage personalities" for themselves and remaining true to these roles throughout their presentations. Many of these "stage roles" - such as the roles of actor, preacher and storyteller - are familiar to most audiences. When these roles are displayed, the result can be striking: Without realizing it, listeners quickly form the impression the speaker wants.

When you're called upon to deliver a presentation - whether it's at a small sales meeting or a community business club - define the role you want to play in front of your audience. You can use many of the same roles expert speakers use:

•Â Actor. The actor frequently plays a dramatic role in front of her audience. She might use impassioned commentary or strong gestures to get important points across. Techniques often used: inflection, movement and dialogue among fictitious characters.

•Â Beggar. The beggar appeals to the audience to get something done. He may paint vivid pictures of problems and contrast them with pictures of accomplishments. He may appeal for unity and teamwork and try to convince his audience of the ease with which some course of action can be taken. Techniques often used: analogy, understatement and grand gestures.

•Â Confidant. The confidant lets the audience in on a secret. He attempts to build rapport with a group and, in the process, convince them of the merits of an idea. Techniques often used: "secret" props (such as sealed envelopes), physical proximity to listeners and impromptu gestures.

•Â Critic. The critic attempts to focus attention on the weaknesses of an idea. She wants to get her listeners to think and may debate or even ridicule what she believes is faulty logic. Techniques often used: Humor, sarcasm, rating systems, caricature and appeals to experts.

•Â Entertainer. The entertainer often injects a lighthearted tone into her talk. She attempts to build her audience's morale. Techniques often used: jokes, extended metaphors, skits and humorous exhibits. A word of caution: Speakers using the entertainer role must always be sure that their selection of humor doesn't offend or insult anyone in the audience.

•Â Organizer. This role is especially useful for a speaker who wants to impart instructions to an audience or set the stage for a new project. Techniques and aids often used: graphs, charts, timelines and encouragement of note-taking.

•Â Preacher. The preacher fosters a desire to move ahead, to adopt a set of ideals or take a strong and noble course of action. Techniques often used: quotations, symbols, props, deliberate raising and lowering of the voice.

•Â Salesperson. The salesperson attempts to present the merits of an idea, identify objections of the audience and then "close" toward agreement. Techniques often used: cost-benefit analysis, questions and answers and simple demonstrations.

•Â Scholar. The scholar attempts to relate knowledge to the audience, perhaps by clarifying a point or debating an issue. Techniques often used: references to studies or experts, testimonials, exhibits, chalkboards and cross-examination of ideas.

•Â Storyteller. The storyteller tries to hold her audience in rapt attention by illustrating her talk with captivating anecdotes, fables or accounts of personal experience. Techniques often used: inflection, pregnant pauses and props.

Ask yourself: What stage personality fits when you present your ideas and information?

Then practice your role with consistency and confidence. PR