How Design Thinking helped me with public speaking.

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Have you been asked to make a presentation or give a talk at a conference and don’t know where to start? Do you master your topic but don’t know for sure if it will achieve the necessary impact on your audience? Are you unsure of what kind of subjects your audience might be interested in? Do you have thousands of ideas but wonder whether to present one subject or another because you don’t have a parameter to help you choose? You know you’re an expert, but the audience doesn’t understand you because of your highly technical language?

A month ago, my colleague and I faced these questions when we were designing a new Public Speaking course for a client. After analyzing all these aspects, we realized we could use Design Thinking to organize the information and, in turn, help our students identify key points that help them to put together their speech and to identify quickly the value they should deliver to an audience.

The client told us about the needs and concerns of employees –they did not know how to organize their speech. Most of them were experts and mastered their topic, but they were more concerned about showing what their employer had asked for, what the industry set as a trend, or simply what they thought the audience needed. Some were desperate to show everyone their discoveries, and others were apprehensive because they already had a presentation, but it wasn’t perfect. When we asked them the following questions: Does that solve your audience’s problem? How do you know they might be interested in this subject? How long have you been improving your presentation?, we obtained these answers: I’m not so sure who this subject is aimed at, my boss just asked me to do it, I think all the information is important, and so on. Also, we realized they used a highly technical language, were unclear about the benefits they were seeking, and had been preparing a speech for weeks that was never going to be perfect.

Thus, my colleague and I began to work by first identifying the needs and then prototyping a version of a course called User-Centered Public Speaking. And of course, we applied Design Thinking to our design as well.

First of all, we looked for information about our client. Then, we used the results of a previous course to identify the user’s profile, needs, and frustrations, as well as the benefits sought. We interviewed students, met with the Human Resources staff, and conducted a survey to find out which were the issues of interest. Thus, we achieve to define three tasks to be accomplished, three frustrations to be worked on, and three benefits, and we used the value proposition map (see figure below) to organize the information obtained.

[1]-2 DISEÑANDO LA PROPUESTA DE VALOR, ALEXANDER OSTERWALDER,YVES PIEGNEUR,
GREGORY BERNARDA, ALAN SMITH. DEUSTO.

We worked on some issues using the tool “How do we…?” This helped us to raise the following questions: How do we get Luis to organize his subject by using only one tool? How do we get Brigel to create powerful speeches in a short time? How do we get Miriam to use the tools and achieve a deep change according to know-how competencies? How do we get Patricia not to get bored during the course and to participate in every training technique?

A simple brainstorming helped us find solutions to the questions raised above. After choosing the best ones, we prototyped something we called “Speaker Canvas”. We designed this tool and integrated all the elements we thought a presentation should include, such as: Theme, Tasks or Needs, Frustrations and Benefits (three elements of the Value Proposition canvas), Audience or Listeners, Level of Depth. In addition, we integrated the 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey (to build a powerful speech), Material Resources, and Staging.

As a result, we created 4 main products:

  • Speaker Canvas as a guiding tool for planning.
  • “The Hero’s Journey” to build a powerful speech.
  • A 30-day virtual course to follow during 30 days of practice.
  • User experience design based on ancient Greece, as this represents the cradle of public speaking. We design costumes, Olympic Games in the form of debates, practice of voice resources through characters, improvisations, etc.

The entire design was developed according the participants so that they could also use the principles of Design Thinking to design their own themes based on the needs, obstacles, and frustrations of the audience, as well as to quickly discover the keys to creating a powerful speech. It was also important that they learn about the philosophy of experimenting and failing so that they would not stop half-way through and would want to continue working on their speeches. The best way for this was practicing public speaking through the Olympic Games in the form of debates.

Bearing all that in mind, we launched our course and included some techniques designed for other workshops we had scheduled, such as those of the Soft Skills module of the Diploma in Project Management under my charge. Finally, we put all this together and tested it with our client’s first group, achieving excellent results; the participants used the tools provided, and we were able to observe significant progress.

For the second group, we made improvements, changed the Speaker Canvas themes, used another technique to make them understand the Hero’s Journey, and included powerful videos so they could watch and learn from the body language of great speakers. 

Although we still have improvements to make for the third group –these are only 10% of things we improved after the first group– we are very pleased with the result, and we have received excellent feedback from the second group. Besides, we are satisfied with our strategy and implementation of prototypes, as well as continuous improvement.

Here are six things I learned from this process:

  • Design Thinking is a very powerful methodology/philosophy that can be used in any area of life –learn it.
  • Generate a prototype with the basic elements that you can test with a user.
  • Make small improvements that allow you to perfect the product without spending a lot of money or effort.
  • Dare to think outside the box and create innovative products that really meet the needs of your users.
  • Get out of your comfort zone and dare to release the creativity inside you.
  • Focus your product or service on building user value –watching and studying him/her.

Karla Vázquez

Computer engineer with 20 years of experience as a Project Manager –Certified PMP and Scrum Master–; 10 years of experience as a trainer in projects management, agile frameworks, and softskills; and 3 years of experience as a facilitator, instructional designer, and Design Thinking trainer.

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