Why the best public speaking is like playing jazz

December 22, 2012 | Presentations, Verbal communication

Creativity and education expert Sir Ken Robinson, one of the most highly-rated speakers on TED, put it aptly when he said: “I always think of public speaking as being a bit like jazz.”

It’s a good mindset when preparing for and delivering our presentations. In public speaking, like with jazz music, we memorize our performance, but should not do it word-for-word. Like a good jazz player, we want to know and understand the dimensions of what we are going to communicate to our audience, but leave room to improvisation. We want to extemporize based on the audience’s visual feedback and how we’re feeling at the time.

Know when to stretch out on a particular point or subject. Know when to economize. Be willing to omit some material when the occasion calls.

To memorize and deliver your speech word-for-word is more akin to a classical music performance, where players deliver the composition note-for-note, without thought of soloing or deviating in the manner of a jazz player. (Yes, the classical player has the latitude to interpret the notes by altering their phraseology, intonation, volume and so on. That is different, however, from the jazz musician who is permitted – even expected – to delve into wholesale soloing, improvisation and playing in accordance with the misty blue mood of the moment).

Take the advice of Sir Ken Robinson. Be a jazz player when presenting. Understand your material cold, so cold that it affords you the comfort level required to ad lib and play to your audience in a way that makes your communication more empathetic, authentic and effective.

Mike Consol teaches public speaking, PowerPoint presentation skills and business writing to companies and business professionals in the Oakland-San Francisco-San Jose Bay Area. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 925-449-1040.