Practically perfect – the 6 “P”s of public speaking (from @BenjaminBallA)

Green Snow PeasLooking for a framework to make your talks more effective? Look no further than the “6 Ps of public speaking”. You’ll find them in a short post by Benjamin Ball, who runs a speaker coaching business in the UK, and I think they’re brilliant!

The original 6 Ps

In the table below, you’ll see those 6 Ps, with my thoughts on them. (After the table, you’ll also find a few suggestions that might make the 6 Ps even better. So as you read the list, see if you can think of any changes you’d make, too.)

Purpose This is a great place to start – defining clearly what you want to achieve. Most speakers fail to do this properly (if at all), so they end up wasting time by including material that doesn’t serve their intended purpose. As a result, they also distract and confuse their audience, and they don’t get the outcome they hoped for. Just hoping isn’t enough! So to avoid all those pitfalls, start with your purpose.
Personalise Ask yourself what to include to keep this audience’s interest. (What a refreshing step to include in the list, and especially so near the top. Tailoring your talk is certainly common advice, but I love the word “personalise” here, as it’s so clear-cut: It highlights that each of your listeners is a person – and it even hints that you should always include emotional content like stories, too.)
Prepare Plan your talk’s structure and its most crucial parts (the opening and closing) before the rest. (Slides or other visuals come last in this step – if you need them. Make slides solely if they’ll help your audience grasp your content.)
Pare This involves repeatedly cutting down your content, recognising that the less you include, the more easily your audience can absorb it.
Perform When you finally speak, bring energy and empathy, so you engage and energise your audience. To achieve your talk’s purpose, you need people to act, and having great stage presence is another way to help persuade them to do that.
Practise As Benjamin puts it, “To be a great public speaker takes time and effort. But to be a good public speaker is fast and easy” (my emphasis). All the same, practice is a key part of any public speaking project, and it’s also vital if you want to improve.

My suggestions

Think for a moment: What might you change about the 6 Ps?

Below, arranged roughly from most to least important, I suggest 6 points that I believe make the list even better. See if you thought of the same suggestions:

  • Let me start with the main change: To make clear that it’s crucial to practise before you present, I’d move practise up in the list.
  • To emphasise the need for a structured, “slides-last” approach, and to more clearly distinguish from the act of practising, I think “plan” is a slightly clearer verb than “prepare” (though admittedly it’s maybe less active).
  • Using the word “perform” has pros and cons: One benefit is that it’s a synonym for “achieve”, but a drawback is that it can also mean “act on stage.”
    So on balance, I think it’s better to use the word “present” instead, but also to qualify it with another P: “Present with passion.”
  • In fact, it’s hard to convey any of the steps in just 1 word, so I suggest extending each P into a short phrase.
  • It’s a shame that “purpose” is a noun. Verbs are more clearly actionable, and having just 1 part of speech in the 6 Ps would make them easier to remember. So you might choose to say “Pinpoint your purpose” instead of just “purpose”.
  • Lastly, the word “pare” concerns me a bit for 2 reasons:
    1. It’s easily confused with the word “pair” (or even “pear”).
    2. It’s not an everyday word.

    So I suggest using the verb “peel” instead.

The updated list

In the end then, my proposal for the 6 Ps of public speaking keeps the core of Benjamin Ball’s ideas, but tweaks each item. Here’s the updated list, with my further thoughts on each step:

Pinpoint your purpose I recommend you write down your purpose in the form of your call-to-action for your audience. Keep this visible while you prepare your talk, and use it to stay focused.
Personalise your talk Jot down some points that have logical relevance but also (better still) emotional resonance for your specific audience. Aim for a mix where only some points are strictly logical, but others are far more emotional.
Plan your content top-down By “top-down”, I mean start with the high-level structure of your talk, then write the opening to highlight some of the points from when you personalised your message, and write the closing to focus on your call-to-action. After writing those, use the points you jotted down earlier to fill in the rest of your talk, paying particular attention to the flow from 1 idea to the next. Then, make visuals where needed.
Peel away excess content Take time to review your content from your audience’s viewpoint, and strip it back as needed to match the purpose you pinpointed earlier. You’re likely speaking because you’re an expert on the topic, but don’t assume your audience needs to know everything about it that you can fit into your allotted time! Only include what this audience needs, and to achieve your purpose.
Practise for real To practise for real means rehearsing as realistically as you can, by speaking out loud with the same pace, volume and so on as you will during your real talk, using the same slides or visuals, and if possible the same equipment and venue. That way, you’re as prepared as you can be for the live event.
Present with passion Having done the other 5 steps, you’ve now freed yourself to be as relaxed as you can on the day: Your groundwork’s complete, and you should have great audience-focused content.

So thanks to Benjamin Ball for publishing his great list of 6 Ps. I found it inspiring, and I hope you have too.

Over to you

  • So what do you think of the 6 Ps?
  • Do you think my suggestions helped the list, or hindered it?
  • What changes (or additions) might you make?
  • Please let me know in the comment box below.

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4 thoughts on “Practically perfect – the 6 “P”s of public speaking (from @BenjaminBallA)

  1. I haven’t constructed this in the “P” format, but the one thing I’d say is missing is Story. Avoid data dumps. When it comes to persuading an audience, stories that tap into emotion are far more effective than a bunch of dry data and facts. Stories should be used throughout the presentation AND the presentation itself should follow a narrative arc.

    • Thanks for joining the discussion Rob. You’re right – stories are key.

      For me, the “personalise” step covers the story element, as shown in the first table. Although I didn’t focus so much on stories, they could come up again in the “plan” section too.

      Certainly, I think the 6 Ps give plenty of scope for using stories. So, they could even get a mention in the “practice” section as well, as you’d want to make sure they came across naturally in the final talk.

  2. you made some great suggestions. I like the second list much better as I also had some of the same issues with the original list. Perform in particular jumped out as a bad choice of word. too often we see performances on stage instead of passion. This new list is much more concise.

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