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Column: There's an art to public speaking – Enda should stick to these simple guidelines

Enda Kenny is under pressure to step up to the plate after Micheál Martin accepted an invitation to a head-to-head debate on the Seanad referendum. Our Taoiseach could use a crash course in communications and presentation training, writes Rory Egan.

Rory Egan

IT”S NOT UNUSUAL for people to be apprehensive about debating in public but we somehow expect our politicians to relish it.

In fact, Enda Kenny could improve his chances of success dramatically if he stuck to some simple guidelines in this area. Preparation, structure and delivery are three key areas that convince an audience that you know what you’re talking about. In fact, studies of public speakers done by UCLA in the United States prove that the content of your delivery only accounts for 7 per cent of your impact on the audience with your demeanour, and critically, how you sound, being far more important.

Preparation

Therefore, preparation is essential. Enda Kenny would do well to brainstorm with one or two trusted colleagues and get all his ideas down on paper, no matter how outside the box they may first appear. When he has done that, it’s time to narrow them down to three key points. These will be the mainstay of his argument. The figure three is a familiar number in communications. We are hard wired to think of three as the magic number. Two is too few and four too many. Get all your ideas on paper and then edit and organise.

For example, his three key points could be the Seanad’s lack of effectiveness, its cost to the taxpayer and then maybe Fine Gael’s plans to reform the single remaining chamber. He must now back up these points individually with proof, either facts or examples, that illustrate his points or stories that add interest and make his ideas come alive.

Structure

The structure is not too difficult. Usually three main points, an intro and a conclusion is about right. However, each main point should have an intro, fully developed thought with clear example and a conclusion of its own. Now he has enough to rehearse his initial presentation. His next task is to – practise, practise, practise and rehearse it out loud.

Saying things out loud helps the brain to get familiar with the topic and the flow. He doesn’t need to learn off the words, that is death to any presentation. The construction and key points need to be learnt or reduced to bullet point notes and then the words should come out naturally on the day.

Delivery

It is crucial he looks confident and not apprehensive about the debate. Body language is important. If, for any reason, he doesn’t feel confident he must learn to fake it until the confidence catches up with him.

He must engage with the audience – he must understand their primary concerns and then address them in his initial introduction. He should concentrate on what he will do and say in the first 10 seconds. They are the most crucial moments of the debate and set the tone for how the audience perceives him. While it’s not good to learn off a prepared speech you do have to know your opening line, it relaxes you and it relaxes the audience

Once he is going, he must believe in himself. The practise he has done prior to this will be a great help to his confidence. He shouldn’t worry about the odd mistake once he gets started. The audience are much more forgiving of the odd misplaced word if they see he has a logical rhythm to his argument.

The Dos:

  • He should keep his sentences short for more impact
  • He should keep his messages simple
  • He should believe in what he is saying – he should be passionate

The Don’ts:

  • He should not be shirty, pompous or sarcastic
  • He should not use clichés or jargon
  • He should not let too many facts suffocate his message

Finally, he should anticipate the tough questions or points he will be up against. He will be asked them so no point waiting until he’s in the hot seat before deciding what to say. If he has to make a concession he should bridge it with a more positive, key point and stay with that point for longer than the concession.

He should speak to the camera as if he were talking to a friend at a dinner party, treating his audience as individuals. Connect with them and they will connect with him.

Rory Egan is Director of Training for Limelight Training, part of the Limelight Communications group. He first trained as a barrister before moving in to business when he brought the Tie Rack franchise into Ireland. He became a senior communications trainer with Carr Communications before becoming Director of Training with Limelight. He has researched and presented a Prime Time documentary, writes for the Sunday Independent, EFM, Magill and The Gloss and is a regular on Ireland AM, Newstalk and Tonight with Vincent Browne

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Rory Egan

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