The Only Thing I Needed for Public Speaking I Found in My Tackle Box, by Ben Starling

Similarities exist between fishing and speech-making? Surely not! Bear with me as I remember how, as a boy, I caught my largest pike…

Know Your Audience

It was a wily old fish that lurked amongst gnarled tree roots at the bend of an oozing river. Others had failed to catch this mighty pike and I’d have failed too if I hadn’t taken the trouble to understand its habits: how it responded to the weather, to river conditions, and what it fed on. Many years later when fully grown, I realised I needed the same understanding of audiences’ traits and habits when making presentations.

Take the time to know your audience and tailor your speech to its demographic—what age range, socio-economic level, interests, cultural and educational backgrounds do your audience members have? Identify a common need or interest to help you choose a subject that will resonate around the room. Then you must cast this lure to your quarry.

To persuade that pike (and your audience) to take your lure, you need to:

  • match the bait to its favourite meal (so choose an appropriate topic),
  • present the lure at the correct depth, angle, distance and speed (your argument must be correctly positioned to be easily understood), and
  • make it appear as natural as possible (sound sincere, trustworthy).
Hook Your Audience

When I am getting ready to draft the introduction to a speech, I also remember that before that mighty pike struck—I had to arouse its interest. That breezy day, I chose a four-inch Toby lure, silver to mimic the roach the pike prey on. I let the current carry it into the fish’s field of vision just long enough to trigger an attack. It’s the same with public-speaking. Get your audience’s attention with a well-targeted opening, or “hook”—a Toby! Toastmasters recommends you choose from:

  • a startling question or challenging statement
  • an appropriate quotation, illustration, or story
  • a display of some object or picture, or
  • an attention-getting generalization that ties in with your subject.

At the end of the introduction, state your thesis—strike, to set the hook—with a sentence that presents the case you plan to prove in the body of your speech. Crystallising this in a single sentence gives a clear and efficient structure.

Reel Your Audience In!

In a five to seven minute speech, you have time to make two to four key points to support your thesis. With carefully chosen arguments tailored to your target, there’s a good chance you’ll get a strike…now you can reel your pike (your audience) in!

Knowing your audience helps you choose an appropriate topic. Hook them early with a Toby that appeals to their interest and needs. Try questions, challenging statements, a visual display or a quote. Then reel them in. Good luck—or as we say in fishing, “Tight lines”!

Last Updated on 11th July 2017 by

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