Sir Ken Robinson on public speaking
February 29, 2008
About two years ago I discovered Sir Ken Robinson; I have talked about him many times here before. His ideas on creativity and education—and his own personal presentation style—are truly an inspiration for me. This week I found several podcasts featuring Sir Ken Robinson and I ate them up. He has such great content and an engaging style. On one of the podcasts (this one with IMNO) I found that he actually spoke briefly on the issue of public speaking and presentation. The podcast audio quality for this one is extremely poor, so I do not suggest you listen to it (there are others I link to at the bottom of this post). However, below I summarize some of the key points he made while spending 3-4 minutes talking about the importance of public speaking. Here's my summary of his tips with my own comments added:
(1) Remember you are speaking to individuals not an abstract group. The size of the audience does not matter, says Robinson; remember that you are always speaking to individuals. So speak as naturally to a large audience as you would to a small group.
(2) Be as relaxed as possible. People will feel relaxed if you are relaxed, so be as relaxed as possible right from the start to put the audience at ease. Seems like a small thing, but actually it is huge.
(3) Be conversational and make a connection with the room. But also keep the energy high. Being relaxed and natural and conversational does not mean that your energy as a presenter is the same as when you are chatting with friends in a cafe. Robinson says that he gets a lot of energy from the audience so the connection is very important. If you have the connection and the energy (which is cyclical) then your impact, your message is more effective.
(4) Know your material. OK, this may seem a wee bit obvious, but why then do so many people use detailed notes? Partly it's due to nervousness or convention and habit, but often it's because people are really not fully prepared to be talking on the topic yet. If you really know your material well then you should not need much more than a few bullet points on paper to remind you of the structure. Robinson says he thinks long and hard about his talk and writes down a few key bullet points on paper (not on screen). (I think a mind-map on a piece of paper can also be a useful reminder and a road map for you; I sometimes use these). Robinson never has extensive notes, just bullet points. If you know your material then you will be relaxed. If you don't, you'll seem nervous and this makes the audience nervous or uncomfortable.
(5) Prepare, but don't rehearse (think and plan ahead instead). There is nothing wrong with rehearsal, of course. Different people have different methods for preparing. But the danger in rehearsal is that it is possible to seem too rehearsed when you present. That is, we may seem too perfect, too inflexible, too unnatural, and though technically perfect, we may lose the ever important natural connection with the audience. And I say if there is no connection, there is no communication.
(6) Leave room for improvisation. "I always think of public speaking as being a bit like jazz or the blues," says Sir Ken. He says that he does not always necessarily know exactly what he is going to say, but he believes in stories and his presentation—like a jazz musician—is telling a story and he is taking people someplace. Yes, he has ideas in mind before he takes to the stage, but like a musician he feels free to improvise. This is actually more natural and more flexible and enables him to engage more with each unique audience. (Click slide for larger size.)
Sir Ken Robinson also believes in humor. Humor is important for stimulating creativity he often says. And humor is good for getting people engaged with you and your message."If they're laughing then they're listening," he says.
Can't get enough of Sir Ken Robinson?
Watch this classic TED presentation from 2006 (or watch here) and checkout the podcast interviews with Sir Ken Robinson below. Really good stuff.
• Interview with Sir Ken Robinson by Susan Bratton on Personal Life Media
• Sir Ken Robinson interview on innovation on Phorecast
• Interview with Sir Ken Robinson focussing on social media on Media Snackers
• Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative (book by Sir Ken Robinson)