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Add a Little P.R.E.P. to Your Unscripted Speaking

By Michele Trent
Public Speaking Coach

RECENTLY, I was at an event and the headline speaker gave a remarkable speech. It was fitting for the event, emotionally stirring, beautifully descriptive. He finished, we all clapped. Well done indeed. Then, this same speaker was asked to share an announcement with the crowd. He sounded like a completely different person. Once he no longer had the crutch of reading his exquisitely crafted remarks, he stuttered and stammered. He repeated himself and tried to explain over and again the one point he was tasked to deliver. It was awkward. And this after such a tremendous speech. What happened?

Delivering written remarks is a vastly different skill than impromptu or extemporaneous speaking. Both have their place but they are different. Have you ever been to a concert and watched amazing performers dancing and doing tricks all while singing flawlessly? Well, that’s because they are lip-syncing. Once the song is over and the mic is turned back on so that they can speak to the crowd directly, then you hear him or her huffing and puffing and gasping for breath after the high energy routine. They can dance and do acrobatic moves but that does not lend itself to singing. Same with speaking. While you might deliver your written and rehearsed speech well, what happens when you’re forced to tap into a different skill set?

Unscripted Speaking

Delivering written remarks is a skill. There is no doubt about that. You need to be familiar with what you are saying. You need to be concerned with pacing and tone. It’s rehearsed. In some instances, it is completely fitting to read your remarks. Impromptu (delivered without preparation) and extemporaneous (prepared but without a script) speaking require a different set of skills. While many people find it “scary,” it really need not be. Unscripted speaking is what you do every day, all day, when you interact with your friends and colleagues. What you will want to be most mindful of when you are called upon to speak with little or no notice is what point do you want to make?

This might sound overly simplistic. Of course, you will have a point! However, you’d be surprised at how masked your point can become when you are nervous, and you just start saying all kinds of other things to fill time and space. It is better to be succinct and simply stop talking than to ramble in such a way that your point is lost. This is what happened to the speaker I referred to at the beginning. His point got lost in all kinds of other weird and unrelated statements.

P.R.E.P. Formula

So, what do you do and how can you make your point well? Here’s a simple formula used by Phoenix Public Speaking, Toastmasters and others that you can employ in a business setting to make your point. The next time a meeting starts and your boss says, “hey, can you give a quick rundown of where we’re at for your project,” remember the acronym P.R.E.P.

  • The first P in P.R.E.P. stands for “Point.” Start with your main point.
  • Then “Relate” (or “Reason”). Why you are the one qualified to make this point.
  • The E stands for “Example,” give an example (such as a short story) to support your point.
  • And then “P,” make your point again with a recommendation.

When you put it all together, it might sound something like this:

“We have too many signs in our stores, they are costly, create clutter, and confuse the customer. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Jane Smith and I lead the Signage Strategy Team. We recently concluded an expansive research project to identify the value of signs within our stores. The result of the study concludes that we could reduce the amount of signage in-store by 30% and expect an increase in customer purchases as a result. How could this be? We allocate up to 30 hours a week of manpower to put up and take down signs if this time was reallocated to customer service, associates could greet customers and be available to answer crucial customer questions regarding delivery and custom color options. In our test store with 30% fewer signs, sales increased 5% due to this increased customer interaction. Additionally, have you ever noticed how overwhelming our stores appear when you walk through the front door? The boldness of our signs diverts attention from our products and overwhelm our customers. With fewer signs and less information to take in, customers buy more. In short, we recommend reducing the overall number of signs in our store by 30% as a way of reducing costs, creating a more favorable aesthetic and increasing overall sales.”

This is a made-up example but you get the point – make your point, support your point, and make your point again. And then, stop talking. Don’t dilute what you have to say by adding information that could create confusion. If people have questions, invite them to ask those. Your job is to make the point.

Now, the next time you are called upon to give remarks with very little notice, what you have to say will be as clear as what you have rehearsed. You will simply be tapping into a slightly different set of skills.


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