Giving a Talk

This itself is an extended talk. As a talk on its own it will not do. It needs at least wipeboard support, and, for efficiency and explanation, the odd OHT or computer generated slide support. In fact this talk becomes a lecture or a series of lectures. The lecturer should periodically put the focus to the audience/ students and their verbal participation. Involvement is the way to increase retention and spread best practice.

A Dilemma

Phillip was a successful recruitment interviewer, and had come to this position having had some training and experience in listening and helping people in crisis management on the telephone. He was being given new duties in the Grabem Recruitment Company, moving on from one to one interviews to travelling out to large scale recruitment fairs. This meant speaking to large groups of potential employees according to the notes of the client company and doing this with an assistant whose job description was restricted to setting out rooms and giving out documents on his instructions. His pay went up a small amount to reflect the extra responsibility. Whereas many might rise to this job enrichment, the first time he travelled out he showed physical symptoms, literally drying-up in the face of the crowd and forgetting his hastily prepared lines. He lost the flow of speech despite having card prompts made in his handwriting the day before.

He saw a vacancy for a job by Pullemin Personnel, defined according to the original job description, conducting one to one interviews for client firms and assessing the candidates against set criteria (with a small amount of discretion for appearance, etc.). He went for an interview (about which he had considerable expertise in both job content and in how to present himself). Not surprisingly he got the job, subject to references, and resigned from Grabem.


  • Did Phillip do the right thing?
  • Should people expect to have their jobs enriched?
  • What would be your response if an employer asked you to do something new, even if arguably an extensive of the current job description?
  • What positive steps could Phillip have taken to improve presentation fluency?

Confidence is derived from training and experience

It can well be said that confidence follows on from training. Training can include dealing with physical symptoms. Some people, like actors and politicians, use their nerves to stimulate their performance.

A talk is a performance: a construction. Few can speak purely extempore, and when they do it is because it rides on the back of confidence based on having subject knowledge and speech method. Some talks look extempore because they were learnt by rote but others look without notes because of back projection and refraction of the script on to display units (the speaker's head goes from side to side). Some speeches use electronic or card prompts, and some perhaps become slaves (and become dull) to the run of computer presentation slides. Some speakers may as well have handed out the script by reading every word, and yet others animate their delivery and make it personal despite reading word for word.

First Talk Questions

A person asked to give a talk must be told or ask back:

Not everything can be predicted in advance, so adjustment is necessary, and planning needs to allow for alterations to be made when the unexpected happens. In any case, aim to keep it simple and bring everyone along.

Imagine the above questions applied to talks on:

  • The advantages/ disadvantages of introducing biometric (eye iris identifying) identification cards.
  • Working less and enjoying life more; or working more for money; or working for its intrinsic value.
  • Increasing immigration to propel economic growth and support an ageing population or reducing immigration because of a high urban density and pressure on green belt.
  • Proactive defence as a means of world security or a dangerous slide into giving precedence to military adventurism and the nuclear arms race.
  • The European Union as an upholder of social and economic standards in world trade or the European Union as a protectionist system upholding inefficiency.

The Purpose of a Talk

Descriptive and observational Know their entry level; only use understood jargon; illustrate through examples, illustrate by other means (diagrams, charts, pictures); separate facts out into bitesizes wrapped in a suitable historical, spatial order.
Explanatory Know their entry level; only use understood jargon; needs plenty of verbal bitesize summaries that offer pictures and diagrams in the mind, with such visual aids, offering a line of reasoning in deductive or inductive order.
Persuasive, Convince, Inspire Evidence and referenced opinion is required; appeal to the audience's own interests; avoid emotion; avoid over elaborated language; include something of the other argument and tackle cooly; use inductive order.
Entertain and amuse This requires much illustration and timing in the humour; it needs focus; it needs to be personal; it needs skill in knowing which taboos to use and which to avoid; it must mean knowing the audience.

Stages in Producing a Talk

Thinking time Reading time Writing time
Go over it in the head Read on the subject and make notes Write notes into sentences
Carry a notebook for eureka moments Read around the subject for understanding Join sentences into a pattern according to the order of argument
Discuss with others Read quotations types books and webpages Is it substantive and although the reader knows what it means would the audience?
Play around making a computer mind map Look at journalism on the subject Whatever the argument, there must be a good introduction, middle and ending

Talking a Lecture

It is known that lectures are an awful ways of getting across facts that people can absorb and understanding. It is lucky if 10% gets through. Yet they are still given for rapid summaries of topics, as guidelines on what to read.


  • What makes a good lecture?
  • What makes a lecture a sleeping event?
  • Is there any difference between a lecture and a talk (in all, some, any circumstances?)
  • How is a talk going to avoid the pitfalls of a bad lecture?

Practice and Beforehand

No talk will work without some practice. This is not just about the voice but the environment of the talk itself.

The Talk Itself

The talk itself should contain certain characteristics for best practice, at the beginning, during the main section, and closing, with several options.

Talk Opening

Why a Good Start?

Starting Points

The above may bore as regards a talk, but they are not fixed, especially regarding a technical or highly academic lecture.

Anecdote Starting with a short story or experience that illustrates the central point of a talk.
Topical story This may be in the news but needs telling to the relevance of the talk and may have a twist as far as the talk is concerned.
Joke A risky matter to begin with a joke when humour varies so much, and failing with a joke makes kills the start.
Informal kick off Personalise from recent experience why this talk is being given.
Locality Refer to the area in a flattering manner even in the face of adversity.
Facts and statistics As a starter they should be used sparingly and within ordinary, quick comprehension.
Relevant quotation The source should be well known and its subject matter lead directly into the talk.
Predicament question A leading question they might have thought about which is going to be tackled.
Mind read Introduction that focuses on what they audience may be thinking about.
Shocking words Starting with a massive assumption or something no one would ever put in a learned article to be qualified after a pause or shown why it is wrong within the talk.

Talk Performing

A talk should appear as natural as possible. It is a communication. Too many visual aids, being too attached to text and being artificial reduces the all important connection with the audidence.

Talk Closing

Again, as with aspects to avoid at the start, this is about a talk becoming boring; all talks and lectures too should come to a swift close without too much verbosity. It does not need the musical equivalent of a drum roll.

How to Stop

Summarise Key points, logically, which are self contained.
Question Ending on a question continues the debate over to them because this topic cannot be finalised.
Choices for the future Presenting with alternatives shows this topic cannot be finalised.
Anecdote Practical, summary in a story, taking perhaps theoretical points back into the real world.
Dramatic voice This must not be articficial but the voice can be used for closing effect by making it more forceful.
Demand action Throw the summary points to the audience by demanding real world action.
Incentive The benefits of following the line of argument of a talk should be expressed to engage the audience as they are to leave.
Fear The opposite of incentive which can be risky, but is an explanation of a consequence when something is not done.
Conscience This is about what we can do, and should do, if we give it the time, and should give it the time.



Stanton, N. (1986), The Business of Communicating: Improving Your Communicating Skills, London: Pan Breakthrough Books, 153-172.