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Public Speaking Tips for Aspiring Wonks

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Quote of the week:
 
“Speech is the index of the mind.”
— Seneca
 
Three of the keys to professional success to reduce nuclear dangers are sharp analytical, writing, and pubic speaking skills. One way to sharpen your public speaking skills is to prepare talking points — guideposts for the listening journey you want to take your audience on. I try to make these talking points as succinct as possible. I back up each talking point with a short paragraph of reinforcing, illustrative material that I try to commit to memory. This approach, summarized below, has worked reasonably well for me. It might work for you, too.
 
1. Don’t read your talking points. Maintain eye contact.
2. Talk to your audience, not down at them. A respectful approach can open minds.
3. The best talking points are short and succinct.
4. Back up each talking point with a very short explanatory paragraph. Stay out of the weeds. By definition, if a talking point requires a long explanation, it’s not a good talking point.
5. Don’t repeat yourself! Edit your explanatory back-up material mercilessly.
6. The best talking points have the advantage of being true.
7. The worst talking points are ones that aren’t true – and both you and your audience know it. (These are usually reserved for government officials.) You will lose your audience by insulting its intelligence – and never get them back.
8. Be entertaining, but not clever. There’s a difference. When the topic is grim enough, a little leavening can go a long way.
9. Don’t belabor the obvious. Mention it and move on. Otherwise, your audience will be thinking, “Tell us something we don’t already know.”
10. If the obvious is also the most important, find interesting ways to convey this information.
11. Data and graphics are eye catchers. They help convey the obvious in compelling ways.
12. Be aware of and avoid verbal “tics” and fillers, such as “um,” “like,” “you know,” etc.
13. Don’t hide behind the podium. Get out there and connect with your audience.
 
Michael Krepon is Co-Founder of the Stimson Center. This piece originally ran in Arms Control Wonk on February 14, 2018. 
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