There are two kinds of speakers; those that are nervous and those that are liars. ~Mark Twain
I was at dinner last evening with a good friend of mine and his lovely wife. He owns and runs a very special flyfishing lodge in the wilds of Patagonia, Argentina and I have fished with him and his father for the past 3 years. It is one of the best monster trout fishing destinations in the world, which is why the lake has been given the nickname of Jurassic Lake. Take a peek at their website: Estancia Laguna Verde.
He often has to give presentations about his lodge and the fishing program at various flyfishing shows and outdoor conferences in the US, UK and other places. Like most people, speaking in front of a crowd is daunting and sometimes scary. So over dinner we talked about the basics of public speaking and he asked me for a few tips.
One of the ways I like to share information is through the use of an analogy, which is a comparison between one thing and another, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification. And for me the best analogies are those that the listener can personally relate with. So, since he was an expert angler and flyfisherman, I used a flyfishing analogy to explain the fundamentals of effective public speaking. After all, the purpose of a good presentation is to “hook the audience” (pun intended) on your ideas and message.
Match the Hatch
One of the basics of successful flyfishing is to match the hatch, which means to choose a fly pattern that most resembles whatever the fish are feeding on at the time. Usually it refers to what type of aquatic insect is hatching from larvae to winged adult at any particular time. Trout are very selective and when a mayfly hatch is on, they tend to gorge themselves, ignoring other insect food. And to fish successfully during a mayfly hatch, choosing a fly pattern that most closely resembles the species hatching is critical.
So here is my list of fundamentals for effective public speaking:
- Know your subject: All good fishermen realizes that to be successful you have to master the cast as well as understand the performance characteristics of different lines, leaders and tippets.
In terms of public speaking, it is critical to understand your subject matter so that you can draw from a wealth of examples and feel comfortable talking about the subject. To give a public presentation on something you know very little about is a design to fail.
He who knows why will always win over those who just know how!
- Know your audience: Each fish species is different in their behaviour and ecology. Rainbow trout like fast flowing, highly oxygenated water, while Brown trout tend to prefer slower moving water with lots of weeds for cover. Small bonefish tend to school while larger ones are more solitary.
What type of audience are you speaking to? Business executives, middle managers, supervisors, a mixed audience from the South, a young audience? Each audience group is interested in different things and the language you use, the stories you tell, the examples, must match the interests of your audience. My tutor, Tom Willhite, used to say that to be a successful speaker you most start at the level of your audience, then move them you can actively engage them in your messages.
- Talk from an outline, not a script: Flyfishermen understand that having a basic plan when fishing is important, since it allows you to bring the right types of flies, the right rods, reels and clothing. But no fishing expedition ever goes according to the original plan, there are always unexpected events, like weather or broken equipment that must be dealt with. Flexibility and creativity are the keys to a successful fishing trip.
The same is true for a public presentation. If you memorize a script you may deliver all the words in the right order, but it can easily lack emotion and authenticity for the audience and your audience can easily tune out.
Every boxer has a plan, until they get punched in the face. ~Mohammed Ali
- Speak slowly: Flyfishing is not a hurried sport. The best casts and the best fly presentations are usually made with slow, smooth casting strokes that allow the physics of the rod and line to do its work. Rushing a cast often results in the line crumpling at your feet instead of shooting out across the stream. And most fishing must be done slowly, especially when swinging a streamer. Moving the fly too fast makes it look artificial rather than like a tasty morsel moving along with the current.
When speaking to an audience, your words can have more inflection and more impact when spoken slowly, rather than trying to rush to get through all the material. And it is more impactful to pause often so that the message can sink in, rather than spraying out the words in machine gun fashion.
- Move and make eye contact: When flyfishing it is important to keep scanning the water and the area for clues as to where fish might be or where there is a low branch or log that could snag your fly. The worst fishing technique is to flog the same water over and over again, instead keep moving around, trying different pools and pockets of water.
The speaker that stands absolutely still and doesn’t make eye contact with members of the audience or move across the stage will find his message falling on deaf ears. And making eye contact is critical since you can then not only read the reaction to your message on the faces of people, but it makes your message more personal to each individual you make eye contact with. “Wow, it was as if she was speaking just to me!”
- Care: Flyfishermen tend to care about the fish, the environment and sustaining the sport for the next generation. They often practice catch and release, which has been proven to promote a sustainable fishery. They also care about the environment and many a flyfisherman comes home with trash picked up along the river and the roadside.
It is pretty apparent during a public speech whether or not the speaker really cares about the material, the ideas and his audience. The caring speaker is enthusiastic, genuine, smiles a lot, and the real emotion shows through. The audience feels the caring.
Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
Okay, enough of that, I’m going fishing!
Written and Posted by: John R. Childress
Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
John also writes thriller novels!