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Interview with a Champion

I recently interviewed Dale Rees-Bevan who won the 2011 NSW and ACT Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest with her speech, Country Charm. Dale shares with me her experiences of being in a contest and how preparing for a contest can be applied to preparing for business presentations.

As a businesswoman, do you find humour easy to include in your speeches and presentations?

Most of the time, yes. I think the key is not to be funny but rather to be natural. Once you stumble on something that you know works you tend to use it as often as you can. Then at least you know you're going to get a laugh.

How did you decide on the topic for your speech for this contest?

I think it would be more accurate to say that the topic found me. I flew on a small plane to Cobar and I was chatting the whole time and decided there and then that this has to be a speech.

When you're preparing to speak in front of a group – whether it's in a competition or in a business environment – do you have a process by which you compose the various elements of your speech or presentation?

Starting at the end is always the obvious strategy – what you want your audience to know, think, feel or do by the end of the presentation. Then you work backwards to achieve that.

When I do presentations for clients, the most useful preparation is talking to the clients to find out what the issues are, what message they want to come across and putting it altogether is just about finding a structure that is logical and easy to follow. Their answers often form the backbone of the presentation.

To compete in the finals for a speech contest can be a very stressful experience. How do you stay composed and focused?

I've always been extremely nervous at competitions, which is why I do it because I find it more challenging than any other kind of speaking.

This year I felt so much more relaxed and a lot of it was due to the fact that I'm simply so busy professionally there almost wasn't time to feel nervous. But there was also an element of a conscious decision not to get stressed but to try and concentrate on the enjoyment of the experience.

I think that was partly why I was more successful than usual.

What are your top three tips when preparing for a presentation?

The most important thing is to concentrate on the main message or theme and only use supporting materials that are relevant to that.

Think about where the humour could go in. A bit of planned humour always goes a long way. It's a great way to keep your audience awake as well.

Find out as much as you can about your client so that all of your material can be presented relevant to your client's world.

If your presentation is internal then simply make reference to the internal environment and characters. Everyone connects with this and enjoys the in-house references and jokes.

Thank you Dale, for your time!

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Maria Pantalone

Maria Pantalone is the author of Success Talks: Conversations with Everyday Leaders. Maria works with individuals and teams to make communication their strength so that their message is heard. She provides tailored programs in presentation skills, business writing and effective communication as a leader and team member. Maria’s programs help her clients to excel in their role and be recognised as leaders in their field.
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