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Media and Crisis Management

How To Give a Walk and Talk Speech

Posted on: July 29th, 2012

Presentations: How To Give a Walk and Talk SpeechSpeaking

When Elizabeth Dole ran for President years ago she delivered compelling speeches. She practically appropriated the no-podium, no-notes, no-prompter, no-PowerPoint, walk-and-talk presentation style.  She moved through her audience while talking apparently extemporaneously. Talk about a “high wire” public address without a net!

Walk and talk speeches are not for the faint of heart, and yet these daredevil deliveries seem to attract more executives who want presentations with impact. While usually nerve-wracking to execute, they are impressive. These speeches engage the crowd and compel attention. After all how can the listener ignore a speaker who circles your seat and looks you in the eye from just a few yards away?

I”ve summoned up the courage to perform such speeches on occasion. What an adrenaline rush! Failure’s hard to hide – you can’t rush back to the podium because of a brain fade – yet it is a shared experience for speaker and listener that helps you bond with your audience.

A client once called and said adamantly, “I do not want to stand behind a podium. I do not want to read the speech. I prefer to use as few notes as possible.”

That got my attention. Do you have any idea how few people are willing to attempt this? Most look for ways to decrease speaking anxiety, not increase it. I knew this executive would be atypical.  My mission now was to remove any physical or psychological barriers to her accomplishing this while otherwise staying out of her way so that she could concentrate on content. She seemed eager and not intimidated and pulled it off!

Some audience members later said her speech was the best part of a daylong affair held by the company. Others claimed she even eclipsed a professional speaker on the program.

So how did this executive do it? How did she prepare? How do YOU do it? The following steps combine what my client did and what I do to prepare to “walk and talk.”

1. Organize the text of the written speech in the narrative order most logical to you (not to someone else). The flow should be natural, intuitive. Point A should lead to Point B then to Point C, and so on. If it feels right then it will be easier for you to remember. (This is essential. In my TV news days I discovered that the most difficult on-camera stand-ups were the ones written in the most convoluted order).

2. Format each page of the speech into vertical halves. Put the full text on the right half. Leave the left side blank.

3.  Fill the left-hand blank space with single words or short phrases that outline or summarize each major thought expressed in the matching full text on the right.

4. On a separate sheet of paper, create an outline page listing only the outline words from the left-hand side of your speech. You can use index cards if you wish.

5. Rehearse in this sequence:

a) right side full text

b) left side outline (refer frequently to the full text to refresh your memory)

c) outline page

d) no notes at all. Over a period of days or weeks you should move from step a) to b) to c) to d) as you master each. Eventually, you should be able to visualize the outline and deliver the presentation with no notes using only your mental list of key words.

Two final critical points.

Do not attempt to memorize the full-text. Simply try to convey the sense of it, the context of it. Full memorization is extremely difficult and time-consuming. In my experience memorization can create a house-of-cards speech. The slightest breeze – or misstep by you – can cause it to collapse. “Talking” a speech gives you the freedom to adjust on the spot, ad-lib, even stumble, without jeopardizing the whole presentation. (Caveat – You may want to memorize your opening and your close to make them sharp.)

Know what you are talking about. The content should contain your expertise. If you take a wrong turn, the depth of your knowledge should give you an acceptable detour back to the main road.

There is definite choreography to a good walk-and-talk no-podium speech. The content is deliberate, well considered, and logical. It only “appears” extemporaneous. Do not confuse it with the rambling unfocused presentations of some speakers. They are pretenders. The real thing is thoughtful, full of value for the audience, and the result of hard work.

It only looks easy.

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