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Friday
Feb122010

Can you lose a visual aid but keep your audience's attention?

Bitterne Park Pensioners Club, Southampton

My fellow public speaking blogger Lisa Braithwaite recently posted about a presentation which was very successful despite some major problems with the power supply.

Her post reminded me of an evening back in the late 90s when I was booked to speak to a large group of lady diners here in Bournemouth. The hotel suffered a power cut just as the meals were being served (forunately it happened after they had been cooked!) We ate by candlelight and I was quite prepared to deliver my after dinner speech in near-darkness. I wasn't using slides and the lack of a microphone would not have been a problem because I knew the size of the room and where the audience members were sitting so I would be able to project my voice sufficiently. But I would have missed out on making eye contact with them and so it was a good thing that the lights came back on just before I was introduced.

However hard we work at preparing and rehearsing our material, we still often rely very heavily on physical objects, be they projectors, microphones or even smaller, non-technical props.

As I was setting up ready to deliver the talk My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer for Bitterne Park Pensioners Club in Southampton on 8 September I was unable to find one of my props - an old identity badge. It's a small object but very important for this talk. It sets up a humorous observation relating back to two other props I have shown the audience earlier (any comic knows how effective this 'reincorporation' of  previous material can be), it leads into the anecdote about how I came to be known as 'Nickar' Thomas and this then gives me the opportunity to mention my booklet 'Nick R's in a Twist!' 
This is then followed by a true, very funny story about names. 

I had two choices: to omit this material altogether or include it and simply describe the missing prop to the audience. I certainly was not prepared to sacrifice the laughs or the opportunity to naturally introduce my booklet so I took the second option. It worked. The 35-or-so ladies enjoyed my talk and I sold a decent number of books afterwards.

As I mentioned last year when I was stranded due to travel problems caused by heavy snow, it can be possible to get through a presentation without all your usual visual aids, etc.

But I missed that prop and was really concerned about what might have happened to it. (I found it later and now take a great more care of it!)

Public Speaking Tip #351: A unique visual aid lends so much impact to a speaker's presentation. In return, we should really look after these (often irreplaceable) props.
 

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