At one of our recent Jellyfish ‘Lunch n Learns’, we had the pleasure of hearing from the Reigate MP, Crispin Blunt, on public speaking tips and techniques.
He’s represented Reigate in Parliament since 1997 and has held the position of Chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee since 2015 – needless to say, Crispin is well versed in public speaking.
At Jellyfish, public speaking is common and encouraged both internally and externally. So inevitably, lots of excited Jellies gathered together on a Friday lunchtime to pick up some top tips from an expert speaker.
With, in Crispin’s words, a “young” audience staring back at him and the lectern comprising of an iPad rather than a space for handwritten notes, Crispin began by saying that there was no doubt he was at a digital marketing agency. Yet, in true professional speaker style, Crispin got straight to it.
He continued by taking us back to his childhood when public speaking first became an enjoyable part of his life – something many Jellies, including myself, struggled to comprehend!
Crispin told us how he’d always relished standing up in front of others, admitting he loved the attention, and when he jokingly said he wasn’t getting any casting calls, public speaking seemed to him like the next best thing. He acknowledged how this makes him an “odd egg” and to prove this point asked us “who on earth starts a debating society aged 12?”
Crispin’s tips and techniques that will hopefully have you loving public speaking (if you don’t already!)
Tip #1: Preparation, preparation, preparation
To be precise, one hour of preparation for every minute you present. Crispin’s military background gave him a disciplined approach to preparation, as well as the skills to instruct and present. He tells us ardently: “Nothing is more important than preparation.”
He goes on to verify this by telling us about the most important speech of his career, and perhaps his life – the final selection speech for the Conservative MP in Reigate. Despite the speech only being ten minutes long, it was hugely important to Crispin and his career. It needed to work – and it did.
Having spent a long time preparing this speech, Crispin delivered it like an actor. It wasn’t contrived but he was word-perfect. With those in the know telling Crispin that the other candidates hadn’t done as much preparation, he put his success down to this.
Fear is a common problem with public speaking and how to deal with it was an obvious question to ask Crispin. His simple answer to this? Prepare. He concluded: “Preparation is your support.”
We heard him loud and clear – preparation is key to good public speaking.
Tip #2: Use notes wisely
We understood from Crispin that preparation is crucial, but what if time isn’t on your side? This is where good old notes come in. But, follow Crispin’s advice and use them wisely: Too many notes, and you start reading aloud and sounding dry. Too little notes and you won’t stay focused. Crispin’s recommendation? When prepping start with a script to help you get your ideas together. Then write down a few pointers that will act as cues for the talk itself.
However, notes don’t come naturally to everyone. Crispin used to work as Special Adviser to Malcom Rifkind, who refused to read from a speech, or use any notes. Rifkind didn’t use notes because he had the remarkable aptitude of looking at a speech once, remembering the key points, taking a moment’s thought and then, well, speaking! And speaking well, littered with suitable jokes and anecdotes.
Tip #3: Think about the audience’s reactions and build them into your speech
Rifkind, the excellent presenter who story told with jokes with no need for pre-written speeches, struggled with larger crowds, why? He didn’t have any cues.
With intimate audiences, a presenter can read their reactions and allow them time to laugh and clap. However, bigger audiences need indicators as to when they can react.
Without notes and preparation, the verbal or visual pauses for reactions aren’t as clear as they could be - notes can be used to ‘write in’ these cues.
The moral of this story is if you aren’t going to use notes, memorise the speech so you know when to pause. If you are going to use notes, make sure you add in when the audience should react.
Tip #4: Know your subject
Sometimes presenting requires reactive responses, particularly when answering questions. This is where notes can’t help you but knowing your subject and knowing what you don’t know can.
If a question arises, judge whether you know enough to face intervention. If you don’t, then admit it instead of making something up. Otherwise you’ll risk looking like you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Don’t try to ‘blag’ your audience – have integrity.
Tip #5: Be true to yourself
When asked who his favourite public speaker is, Crispin replied “Barrack Obama” - someone I’m sure many would agree with. But Crispin quickly caveated this by saying that this doesn’t mean he tries to mimic him. Crispin’s point here is that being yourself is imperative.
He added that this applies no matter who your audience are. In Crispin’s words;
“Changing your tone, voice and opinions to suit the audience makes you sound creepy, patronising and fake.”
Similarly, he doesn’t change his opinions just because an audience doesn’t agree with them. Giving the example of speaking at a church, Crispin said there’s no way he would agree with the audience’s beliefs, nor them with his. And that’s fine. If you’re honest with the audience, you may never bring them round to your way of thinking but at least you’ll earn their respect. And that’s way better.
Respect comes from being genuine not phoney.