I give hundreds of speeches and lectures each year on subjects as varied as “Civil Liberties in Wartime” to “Strategies for Winning Fiction Contests” to “The History of the Medicinal Beer Movement.” Sometimes, I know a lot about the subjects on which I speak; on other occasions, I have mastered the material only hours before the presentation. The cardinal rule of public speaking is to remember that your audience assumes you know more about the subject of your speech than they do. I have also found the following three rules have helped me to avoid my share of rancid vegetables:
1. Always begin with a joke. Tell your audience that it’s a joke. This cues them to laugh, even if you’re not funny.
2. Always conclude with a piece of practical advice. People only remember the last five minutes of your presentation; if you end with a tidbit of concrete wisdom, they’ll feel they got their money’s worth.
3. End early. If you’re assigned an hour, and you give a brilliant speech that runs 1:01, all people will remember is that you ran over. If you give a dreadful speech that runs thirty minutes, people will say, “He wasn’t half bad and he got us out on time.”
And above all, don’t picture your audience naked. This advice works in the movies, but only because the actors receiving the advice are speaking to other movie stars. Instead, I recommend picturing your audience with as little exposed flesh as possible.
Jacob M. Appel is the author of the novels The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up (2012), which won the Dundee International Book Award, and The Biology of Luck (2013). His short fiction has appeared in more than two hundred literary journals including Gettysburg Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Jacob holds an MFA in fiction from New York University and an MFA in playwriting from Queen College-CUNY. He practices medicine in New York City.
Jacob M. Appel’s new book:
The Biology of Luck
Odd-job queen Starshine Hart is about to go on somebody else’s perfect date. At 29, the usually carefree Starshine has realized that it is easier to start sleeping with a man than to stop. Her lovers include one of the last underground members of the Weathermen and the dilettante heir to a lawn chair magnate. Both men have staked their romantic future on her. Her only respite is her impending dinner with the nonthreatening but unattractive tour guide Larry Bloom. But Larry, too, has a stake in her future. He has written a book about their impending dinner in which he fantasizes about Starshine’s life on the day he wins her heart.
Where to find it: Elephant Rock Books