Public speaking and working with the media2015-03-26T00:22:34+00:00

Public speaking and working with the media


Public Speaking and Working with the Media
By: Dr Paul Lam

� Tai Chi Productions. All rights reserved except copying for educational, non profit purpose. For example you can copy this article for your fee paying students and conference attendees provided you do not charge a fee for it. This is an integral part of Dr Lam's book "Teaching Tai Chi Effectively", and should be interpreted in relation to the complete book.

Chapter 9: Public speaking and working with the media
A very effective way of promoting tai chi and your classes is through presentations at meetings or conferences and through the media. These opportunities sometimes land on your doorstep, but more often than not you have to go out and look for them. If you are presented with an opportunity to reach out to more people, be sure to make the best of it. It�s like when students walk through the door to your class, it is an opportunity too good to be wasted. I will provide a simple tai chi-orientated guide for how to make the most of these opportunities. I have had many opportunities to speak at scientific conferences and public meetings, and have been interviewed on television and for newspaper articles and other media around the world. Over the years I have found the same set of principles work for most occasions. At the end of this chapter I will also provide some tips on how to be proactive and create these opportunities for yourself.
The key steps are preparation, giving your talk and following up after your talk.

When preparing your talk, focus on the audience, what they want to know and how can they benefit from your message. People want to know that what you have to offer can benefit them � they are not interested in how great you are, but they do want to know how credible you are, that is, do you have the credentials to deliver the benefit to them?

Background information

Conferences and meetings

Get to know as much as possible beforehand about your talk. The more you know, the more likely your talk will be effective. Find out about:

Your audience
How many people are likely to come?
Age range, background and interest?
What do they wish to know?

If it�s a conference:

  • What is the theme and what topics do other speakers cover?
  • How long do you have for your talk?
  • Are there other speakers? Is there an honorarium for the presentation?
  • Who do you contact to make arrangements, find equipment and notify changes?
  • What audiovisual aids are available, such as a projection system for your presentation, microphone, whiteboard?
  • What�s the space you�re presenting in and what are its acoustics?
  • How to get there, where to park etc.

Interviews with the media

If you�re giving an interview or writing an article for the media, find out:

  • What type of publication is it (eg, local or national newspaper, magazine, academic journal)?
  • What�s its audience (age range, background and interests)?
  • What�s its circulation?
  • How long has been allocated for the interview?
  • What�s the length of the article to be published?
  • Can you check the article before it goes to print?


For example, if you�re asked for an article of 150 words for a newspaper or magazine, this is relatively small, so your message should be very concise. I once wrote a tiny 100-word article about the Tai Chi for Arthritis program for the Australian Women�s Weekly. Our phone rang hot for days afterwards!

If you�re being interviewed for newspaper or television, be aware that the time the interview takes can be very different to the length of time or space your message ends up getting. I once did a national television interview (ABC USA), which was to be aired for six minutes � the interview took three hours. My friend Nancy took a bus full of students, travelled two hours to San Francisco and was filmed for two hours � they appeared on the national television for barely twenty seconds! No matter how much or how little exposure you get, if you do it well, it will promote tai chi, bring people to your classes and help people to gain enjoyment and health benefits.
Get to know who you�re dealing with

It is also important to get to know the facilitators (the reporter, journalist, photographer, meeting or conference organiser) you�re dealing with. Your message will reach the audience if it is of interest to the facilitators. Find out which way is the most effective to communicate with them and respect their time and preferences. Some reporters like a written story given to them prior to the interview or a detailed press release and some prefer to start from scratch. Some are good listeners and some just push you to give them what they want to hear. A good journalist has often done their research beforehand. It is usually better to assume your reporter is knowledgeable and your audience is new to your topic. Once you get to know the facilitators, you can adjust this method as you go.

As a general guide most audiences want to know:

  • What is tai chi?
  • How does it work?
  • How does it benefit them?
  • How do they learn it?
  • What does it look like and feel like?
  • What do you have that is unique or different from others?
Most journalists like to include real life stories, so be prepared and have several students ready to speak to them. Readers or viewers find it easier to understand the benefits if a real person tells or shows them. On the other hand, scientific journals and governmental departments prefer published studies and frown on personal testimonials. Credibility is very important to them too, so saying something that has not been supported by published studies could affect your credibility. If you are not familiar with medical studies, ask a recognised expert to go with you.

Preparing your talk or interview

Establish your objectives: what results do you want to achieve? For example, do you want people to know about the health benefits of tai chi in general, or its benefits for arthritis or diabetes? Or are you looking for enrolments for your class?

Correlate your objectives with what the audience and facilitators are looking for, then work on the content of your message. It is also important to know what not to do. For example, some journalists don�t like you to sell anything, so telling people about your class or products during the interview may worry them. Others want to provide their viewers or readers with information about where they can find learning materials and classes. Ask about this before the interview so that you can get the best outcome for yourself without upsetting the journalist. Think of your talk as an opportunity to present the serenity of tai chi through your demeanour and respect for others and you have already communicated the most important aspect of tai chi.

Depending on the time and space available, your content should have no more than three main points. If the time is limited, go for the strongest point; it is more effective than two or three rushed points. Make your points clear and straightforward. Explain simply why your audience should know these points. Start by telling your audience why your talk is important to them; if you cannot do that in less than a minute then you are likely to lose them. Trying to fit in too many points will result in no one remembering anything important at all. Talking fast and trying to fit in as much as possible will also work against you, and talking too slowly will bore them. A normal enthusiastic pace is the best. If you think you need to be seen as a credible source for this information, give your credentials simply, without showing off.

If you�re talking at a non-scientific meeting, starting with a real life story often helps to capture people�s attention. With academic meetings, this may also work, but you must be careful not to arouse negative feelings from scientists who do not trust testimonials � no matter how real, case histories are only personal experiences, which seldom constitute scientific evidence.

Always allow question time, as questions let you know if you are on the right track and if you are getting your message across. Don�t get annoyed with someone asking you a question that you have already covered in your talk � it means you did not make the point clear enough.

In most of the tai chi talks I give, I build in a �let us try it� session. This is a very short tai chi lesson that attendees do, standing in front of their seats or while seated. Of course, it would be great if you could arrange a room for your talk with space to move around. This has proven to be most popular on almost every occasion I�ve done it. At the 31st Annual Meeting and Exhibition of the American Association of Diabetes Educators in Indianapolis, USA, I was asked to give a talk for 15 minutes. I covered the two most important points:

  1. What is tai chi?
  2. Why is my Tai Chi for Diabetes program especially beneficial for people with diabetes?

I supported my points with reasons and scientific studies, had time for two questions and still fitted in an 8-minute �let us try it� session. It went so well several people attended my workshop after that talk!

This case illustrates how valuable the �let us try it� session is; it is often the part that people remember best. I consistently get excellent feedback from this session. Plan the �let us try it� session well. Do only a few movements so that attendees can learn easily and perform the tai chi within the space available. Try to make it fun and enjoyable and aim at leaving attendees with a good feeling about the rhythm and beauty of tai chi.

Like all things in life, the promised time may not work out and the equipment can break down. So prepare your contents in such a way that you can cope with any change. I once travelled overseas for a meeting with the national manager of a government department and his staff. The time allocated for the meeting was half an hour and I was well prepared with three key points. As it turned out, we could only meet for five minutes. I was able to cut my talk to one absolutely most important point. It turned out to be incredibly successful, but if I had tried to get through my original three points in the 5 minutes it would not have worked.

If possible get one or two friends, who you know well enough to be honest with you, to review your talk, to ensure that what you thought would be easily understandable is indeed so. Likewise do your �let us try it� session to ensure it is do-able within the time and space.


Rehearse your talk so well that it does not sound like it has been rehearsed. Understand the material well and prepare for questions. Use your tai chi training to incorporate a jing (serenity or mental quietness) state with your talk. If you visualise your talk as real as possible and rehearse it with a calm and clear mind, chances are you will be calm during the talk.

Giving a talk or interview

Many people get nervous talking in public. There are psychologists who specialise in training people to overcome this. You may want to consider working with one of them. The very core of tai chi is developing jing, or serenity of mind, so utilise your tai chi training to help. I will offer a few hints.

  • If you feel nervous, try not to focus on being nervous. Thinking about how important the talk is will only give you more pressure. Substitute any nervous or pressuring thoughts with positive thoughts, such as focusing on your topic, or do a mental rehearsal or recall a successful talk you have done.
  • You may feel better to occupy yourself before the talk with an enjoyable activity, such as a walk in the garden.
  • Practising tai chi is most helpful in calming the nerves. Focus on the essential principle of tai chi, put your mind in the jing state and focus on your talk. Ralph Dehner, a master trainer of Tai Chi for Health programs, is forever looking for ways to utilise tai chi. During his daughter�s wedding, she became so anxious it triggered off an asthma attack as Ralph was walking her down the aisle. He supported her and talked her through tai chi breathing (she had been learning tai chi for some time by then). By the time she reached the altar she had regained her breath and her composure and the wedding went on without a hitch.
  • A good way is to look at one person in the audience. Find someone who looks friendly and enthusiastic and visualise talking to him or her as if talking to a good friend. Move between �friends�, because just looking at one person doesn�t look natural.

Be prepared for anything that could go wrong. I once attended a talk by the then retired Prime Minister of Australia, Mr Bob Hawke. He was giving a talk at a business executives� dinner. The people were noisy and then the microphone broke down. Mr Hawke did not show the slightest sign of annoyance. He started off as though he were speaking in the most favourable of circumstances and managed to communicate to the audience in a few sentences why his talk was important to them. Once the audience started listening to him, they fell into a complete silence, totally captured.

On another occasion, I went to a medical conference where one speaker complained about the malfunctioning PowerPoint projector at least ten times during his presentation, whch spoilt a good talk. Afterwards we happened to meet as fellow speakers, as I had done the presentation just before him. He told me how much he liked my talk and that I was lucky the projector worked well for me. In fact it didn�t, but I did not complain, just found another way to move on and no one noticed it! Most people, wherever you talk, are not interested in any of your problems; rather they prefer to hear what can benefit or interest them.

In your talk, speak clearly. Put forward one point and support it: why should people remember it or why is it important to the audience? Remember your audience is unlikely to be as interested in the topic as you are. I have often heard over-enthusiastic tai chi speakers trying so hard to push people to love tai chi � only to turn some people off. If you talk about the health benefits of tai chi, support it with evidence and sound reasoning. Illustrate it if you can with your personal experiences, involving yourself and your students. And, if appropriate, make it fun and entertaining; a sense of humour is a good way to open people�s minds.

If there is a podium, avoid hiding behind it. If possible use a lapel microphone so that you can move around. It is more interesting to the audience to watch you in action rather than hiding behind the podium reading the speech. If you�re going to do a �let us try it� session a lapel microphone is most useful.

Have copies of an information sheet ready to give the audience. It should contain essential information, references and how to contact you.

If you are working with the print media, try to arrange for one or more photographs to be included � a picture speaks a thousand words. And for television, offer and be prepared to do a demonstration. Even in a limited space and time, you can show the beauty and serenity of tai chi. During some of my television interviews I offered to teach the presenter tai chi in front of the cameras. Most presenters took me up on the offer. It was the most effective part of the interview.

For the �let us try it� session, or a demonstration in limited space, you can find ideas about how to do it from my DVDs Tai Chi For Back Pain or Tai Chi Anywhere.

Following up

Afterwards, have a post-mortem. Work out what you did well in your talk and where you can improve it. Revise your plan for next time � there is always another chance.

Let your assistants and any students who have testified the benefits of tai chi for you know how much you appreciated their help. Send the facilitator a thank you card or phone them, to let them know what positive results have come from the publicity. Avoid complaining about anything they did not do, but focus on the positive outcomes. If there is a new development, supply them with this information. With my Tai Chi for Diabetes research study, the journalist from our local newspaper published a follow up article about the study when I told her that we needed more subjects.

Keep a file of these contacts for future use.

Creating opportunities

Tai chi is an ideal exercise for health. With the increased ageing of the world�s population, it will inevitably become more popular. The opportunity to spread the message about tai chi through meetings and the media is getting easier by the day. The key to approaching facilitators is similar to the approach you take in spreading your message. Focus on what the audience (in this case, the facilitator) wants to know, supply useful information that can benefit them and keep your message simple.

If possible explain why your message is unique and why the attendees, readers or viewers would benefit from hearing about you. The media can be challenging to access sometimes; try to approach as many sources as possible.

In the Appendix to this book, I have included the text of a letter written by Nancy Kaye, which helped her to get a half-page story in her local newspaper in Orange County, California, USA, which has a circulation of 300,000 people. Note how she stresses the benefits to the readers, and how she starts with a �hook� of being unique (�I�m probably the only one��) to get the editor interested in keeping on reading. She then emphasises why what she has to offer will interest readers and simply states her credentials, backing it all up with evidence (the video). Nancy is a retired editor of the US magazine, Medical Economics, and the half-page of publicity she got from her letter helped me to fill my workshop and three of her own classes, plus a long waiting list.

The Appendix also contains a second sample letter written by me to the Today Show of Channel 9, an Australian national television program, after it televised an interview I did with the USA ABC�s Good Morning America. In my letter, I emphasised the benefit for viewers and pushed Tai Chi for Arthritis� Australian connection � if Good Morning America had broadcast my message all over the world, why shouldn�t my own country�s TV do the same with Australian content? It worked: I got a ten-minute segment on the program, which led to many people knowing about my program and subsequently gaining health benefits from learning it.

Depending on your own situation, if you wish to find students for your class, then a local newspaper is a good starting point. Many teachers I know of have got good free publicity from their local newspaper, which has helped them start their classes. Most community newspapers are keen to find local stories that are positive and uplifting. However, use your imagination and try out any appropriate channel.

After sending your letter, fax or media release, be sure to follow up with a phone call after a suitable period of time � usually two or three days later. If your first attempt does not work, keep trying. Perseverance often pays off in the long run. If you have a unique program or tai chi class that can benefit people, keep telling the media, meeting facilitators and anyone you think might be interested. Sooner or later you will be given the opportunity to practise your public speaking skills.

Remember, public speaking is like tai chi: the more you practise it, the better you will be.


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