Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Elements of a Good Speech

When charged with giving a speech to a business or professional audience it’s often tempting to go with your first instinct. For some, this instinct is to try to be funny and use your time at the podium to tap your inner stand-up comedian.  Needless to say, try to resist that urge.

For others the temptation is to try to impress the audience with your gravitas on a particular topic, or to do your best imitation of Winston Churchill, laying out your grand vision of a better world.  Again, not a bad idea to resist those urges.

Usually the best starting point is simply to really focus on why you were invited to speak in the first place and to center on your purpose for being there.  If you are invited to speak before a community group to talk about your organization’s social responsibility activities, the bulk of your preparation should be to gather all of the information on what your organization is doing for the community through its social responsibility program, and then to work to organize it in coherent fashion.

Of course, that does not ensure your speech will be a good one.  In fact, if that’s all you do, chances are you will bore your audience terribly.

That is why once you have the substance of your speech in place, and you completely understand your purpose for being there, the craft of speechwriting can begin.  Here are four tips that may help you bring your thoughts to life for your audience.

Find your passion – Identify aspects of the topic and the material you plan to cover which taps your own personal passion. Don’t be afraid to reveal this in your words and in your demeanor when you speak.  If you can think of any personal examples or stories that illustrate your passion, consider using them in your open, your conclusion or the body of the speech.

Edit yourself – Make every word count.  Even if you don’t script your speech, make sure your reference notes are well organized and follow a precise flow that carries you smoothly from beginning to end.  When you begin to speak, work hard not to get side-tracked on topics that may only come to mind in the middle of your speech.  As we say in media training, stay on message.

Consider props – While not every speech lends itself to the effective use of props, there are occasions where you can use something as simple as a wrist-watch to illustrate a point you want to make about the value of time, or a cell phone to illustrate the rapid pace with which communications technologies are changing.  You don’t need to belabor use of a given prop, but the value of props is simply to get and keep your audience’s attention.

Don’t rush your open or conclusion – Take your time in the beginning to set up your remarks.  Your audience wants to listen to you and will be patient with you as you get to your main point.  The worst thing you can do with your open, other than put your audience to sleep, is to rush through it so fast that at least half of the audience has no idea what you just said.  In such cases, they spend your entire speech trying to catch up, and usually they never do.

At the end of the speech, it’s important not to be redundant, while at the same time it is equally important to recap your main points.  But the purpose of your conclusion is to leave your audience with that singular thought you want audience members to take with them when they leave the room.