Maintaining Focus in Public Speaking

A public speaking situation can be intimidating for even the most seasoned of public speaking professionals. That is because when speaking to a live audience, you really never know what is going to happen. Never mind the freak occurrences of problems with the audience and the room, you as a human being could be subject to momentary memory halts that often come as the result of nervousness or just looking up and seeing all those eyes looking at you.

So much of the discipline of giving a public presentation is to establish an internal structure to your talk that helps you stay on task and maintain the focus of your subject for the entire time you are speaking. That structure can also be of huge value in helping you gauge your time and make adjustments so you get the most crucial parts of your talk presented within the allocated time frame even if that means leaving out less important parts of your presentation.

There is a simple directive many public speakers live by that gives you a fine guideline for that structure. It goes like this…

  • Tell them what you are going to do.
  • Do what you said you were going to do
  • Tell them you did it.

This simple outline may be overly simplistic but it is the heart of what makes a good presentation work. And the simplicity also helps you stay focused under the pressure of a public speaking situation. So any tool that can do that is a good one.

You tell the audience what to expect during your opening comments. Those comments also contact giving your personal information, a greeting to the audience and perhaps some humor to set the tone of the talk. After you have gotten the speech underway, it is common to establish what is the topic of your talk. But to do that, the most effective device is to make a statement of the problem. By phrasing the subject matter as a compelling and very real problem to your audience, that creates interest as the audience says mentally, “Yes I have that problem. Tell me how you will help me fix it.”

This is where you tell them what you are going to do. The body of your speech is usually a three to five point discussion of the solution to the problem. Don’t give them the entire heart of your speech but let them know the ground you are about to cover. Not only does this give the audience a road map of what to expect, it lets them know that you know what you are doing and you know when you will get done. This gets rid of a secret fear of an out of control speaker that a lot of people who sit in on presentations dread.

Once you establish this roadmap for the rest of your speech, this gives the audience a good feel for where you will be going. By giving them this information early on, that actually reduces the impulse to interrupt you because they know you have a path to go on and they don’t want to take you off that path. Now it is just a matter of stepping through each of the outlined areas to do for this audience what you said you would do which is to offer a solution to the problem statement. Naturally your detailed discussion will have more content than your brief preview. But if you continue to broadcast to the audience where you are on the outline and that you are on track to reach the goal, that keeps them interested and assured that this is an organized program they are a part of.

It is always good to let the audience know then when you are entering your closing statements. Many speakers use a simple clue like “Let me point out, and I am closing with this…” to give the audience the signal that the presentation is almost done. This is common courtesy and a professional way to conduct a presentation. And if you treat the audience with respect like this by telling them what you are going to do, do it and then tell them you did it, you will be a speaker that will get good reviews and invited back for more presentations frequently.