Speaking Tips: Remote Preparation
Writer, speaker, storyteller - Tom Ware in his seventies.
A packed auditorium at the Sydney Opera House
In an exercise in impromtu public speaking on New Year’s Eve 2011 I watched in fascination as the famous television personality, Stephen Fry, entertained a packed auditorium at the Sydney Opera House. There he was, standing up on stage in full view of thousands of people. Indeed, they seemed to surround him on all sides. Yet there was Stephen Fry, relaxed, almost nonchalant, speaking off-the-cuff on all manner of subject matter not the least phased by his position of having to present, impromptu, any and everything which came to his mind. He was humorous. He was serious. He was brilliant. Moreover, he did this for best part of an hour.
Fry packed out the main auditorium, and all he did was talk.
So how does this ability to use ones wits so well come about?
So how does this ability to use one’s wits so well come about? How can one man be so confident in such a situation? Certainly Fry has had plenty of experience in speaking to audiences. Indeed, he has been a playwright and an actor. He’s frequently fielded questions as he features in his many and varied television series. But it is more than that? And if it is, what is it?
It is, I believe, what I’ve long called ‘Remote Preparation.’ And it is this which makes for a speaker of real merit- the man a cut above the average. So what do I mean with this particular phrase, Remote Preparation?
Famous television personality Stephen Fry
When a person is called upon to speak he is not coming from a blank slate.
When a person is called upon to speak he is not coming from a blank slate, so to speak. He wasn’t born yesterday. He or she (we’ll use the male gender here throughout this essay to save it being repetitive) he will be coming from his life experience. Public Speaking, by the way, is one of those few areas where one becomes progressively more proficient as time goes by. The reason for this is that the older one gets, the more one has lived; the more one has lived, the greater the experiences one can call upon. Generally, unless a public speaker ‘has lost his marbles’ he will get better as time goes on. Provided, of course that he keeps up the practice.
Speaking tips: 'Adapt from the greatest number of resources.'
However, the experience one has throughout life varies considerably, as does the acquired knowledge through applied study and learning. The man who has read a thousand books has more to draw on than the man who has read only ten. But if all of those thousand books were on the same narrow subject matter it would make that reader an expert in but one field. And the same applies to work experience. The dour Scottish philosopher, Thomas Carlisle, remarked: “That man is most original who can adapt from the greatest number of resources.” Meaning that the wider ones experiences, the deeper the well of knowledge he can draw from. It therefore behooves those who wish to become really proficient speakers, and who desire to be able to speak on many subjects rather than just one or two, to deliberately make the effort to have both a wide-ranging education and a broad scope of life experiences.
Sky, rock and water - Macquarie Island, sub-Antarctica
Fifty years a postman!
A few years ago I bumped into a man who I’d met almost fifty years earlier. In the early 1950s I’d been a telegram messenger boy at a Sydney suburban post office. I was then with the now defunct Post Master General’s Department. It was my first job. Another young man was there as a junior postman. He delivered letters door to door. When I bumped into him around 2005 or so, he told me he’d been a postman all of this life. Yes, and working out of the same post office. Fifty years a post man! In the interim I’d held jobs as a postal clerk, sailor, aeradio operator, overseas telegraph operator, worked with underground mains engineers, been a truck driver, a foundry laborer, a clerk with a rubber company, a laboratory assistant, a police radio operator, an Antarctic expeditioner and once again ended my paid working life working in an office. Moreover, I worked in several countries. I think it would be fair to say that I now had a lot wider experiences to draw on than my old postman friend.
You need to not only study Life but to live it!
If you want to write or speak about Life you need to not only study Life but to live it! Obviously not everyone has the opportunity to take up every job and every position that they would like. But do what you can. Move! Move from one position to another, from one career to another. Expand you experiences! At least, for the first half of your adult life. The famous author, Ernest Hemingway, went on various adventures so that he could experience things he thought were worth writing about. Consequently he could write about everything from war to big game hunting and fishing to bull fights in Spain. He could put himself into the picture not as a theorist but one who had lived the life.
The jets had arrived on the major air routes, but in New Guinea it was a different story.
Speaking tips: Pick up the vernacular of many specialities.
Remote Preparation is the stuff we draw on as we sit down to compile a speech. It involves not only the actual remembered experience but the remembered words and phraseology; the language of that time. When one speaks of the sea and talks of “just abaft the bridge,” “decks awash, she was beam under,” “wind shrieking through the mast and funnel stays,” the words well up spontaneously. They are not an affected thing. They are not artificial. The ex sailor can speak this language. Or, “Control, this is Speed bird 702, our position is Juliet 30 at one five, flight level three three zero,” If you’ve worked in Airways Operations, this was once your language. This entire vernacular is grist to the mill as one stands before an audience and uses dialogue to enhance a speech or story. It well up naturally.
Gain wide experience, keep gaining knowledge.
So what are you to do if you want to steadily become better and better at being able to come up with riveting ideas for you speeches as the years progress? It has already been said: gain wide experience, keep gaining knowledge. You’ll pick up new areas of expertise; new words will be added to your ‘Spoken Vocabulary.’ As you day dream and visualize experiences from your past your ability to visualize will strengthen. With that will come greater creativity. All of this is Remote Preparation. Be aware of it. Use it. And you’ll continue to enjoy your experiences, never running out of ideas as to what to talk about, and what to bring to the hearts and minds of your audience.
I hope you gained something useful from Speaking Tips: Remote Preparation.
I wish you well.
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- Tom Ware Public Speaking The Prince of Storytellers
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