HOW TO REALLY GIVE A GREAT SPEECH
March 24, 2011 15 Comments
I do get asked quite often as to what it takes to do a really good speech, and though I am usually a bit flippant about this (see “How to give a great speech”), there are some rules that one should follow to at least try and set the stage for a successful outcome.
So, here are my main rules:
1. Preparation is everything and takes time and effort.
You should leave as little as possible to chance. It is important that for at least a month or more beforehand you carry a notebook (or PDA) with you to jot down random thoughts that come to you, no matter how remote, as you think about what you should be saying. Collect everything relevant even though you will probably discard at least 50% of it for the final draft.
Mark Twain said “It usually takes at least 3 weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech”.
2. Find some interesting and relevant quotes.
There are hundreds of quote internet sites that are available. Not only will these give you some interesting elements to embed in your speech, but will also jog some thought processes in areas that you may not have considered.
However, don’t overdo it. Two quotes are enough, maybe one at the start if it is a good punchy introduction to the topic, and an even better one for an inspirational gutsy finish. I once sat through a presentation from one of my sales managers where every one of his 50 Powerpoints was an inspirational quote from some famous person. After the first 10 or so it became tedious and meaningless, and I had to cut him short by starting a round of applause before everyone completely turned off.
3. Use Powerpoint as little as possible.
Too many people spend about 90% of their preparation on the Powerpoints and only about 10% of the time on the actual speech, in the false belief that the Powerponts will drive their words, and even worse belief that an audience likes to read-along with the speaker as he reads his own slides from the podium. These times allocated to preparation should actually be reversed, and if you do use Powerpoint then limit them to about 1 per 4-5 minutes of your speech, so a standard 45 minute presentation should not have more than about 10-12 slides. It is also critically important that you limit the number of words on each one, as you want them to imply an idea, rather than just being another version of your spoken words.
4. Keep it simple.
Many speakers believe that using complicated words and expressions will establish the fact that they are intelligent. The reality is that this just makes the audience think that they are pompous. Gordon Brown (an English past Prime Minister) in a speech once talked about “neoclassical growth theory and a symbiotic relationship between investment in people and infrastructure”, which while it may have had great meaning to him was meaningless drivel to most of the audience. He lasted less than 3 years as PM.
5. Don’t overuse statistics, and don’t fill your Powerpoints with Excel spread-sheets.
Some well-chosen figures can add credibility to your presentation, but they must be relevant, accurate, up to date and supportable. Most people do not believe nor trust statistics and believe that you can use statistics to prove anything, so when you say that “73% of all speakers use too much Powerpoint” you may be right, but most of your audience will actually not believe you, and hence will question your overall veracity.
6. Don’t write your whole speech down and then read it out as this will generally come across as being dry and lifeless, even if you use a teleprompter.
Better to know what you are going to say, and after practice, practice, practice write bullet points and prompts on some small cards that are easily carried and scanned if needed.
If you are going to tell a personal story, there is no need to write the whole thing down. “Tell them about breaking my leg” is more than enough to remind you. Practice the whole speech many times from beginning to end. This will not only make you familiar with what you want to say, but will also show you how long it will take.
7. Be yourself.
The best speakers do not take on a separate stage persona, but play themselves when they are on stage. It is always easier to be yourself than to pretend that you are someone else. If you are not comfortable moving around the stage, then move very little, though you should not just stand behind a podium. If you are not comfortable using your hands then don’t try and wave them about as it will not look natural. If you are not very good at telling jokes, then don’t try and do it, as there is a good chance that it won’t work, and there is nothing worse than a joke, which needs a punch line, having no punch.
8. Some quick tips:
- Look at the audience directly not over them
- Start and end strongly. That’s what they remember most.
- Short sentences and phrases can be effective eg “We will win. There are no excuses.”
- Repetition can be powerful. Martin Luther king said “I have a dream” 7 times.
- Remember that your audience is on your side and wants you to do well.
- Don’t apologise ! Never start with anything like “I am not sure why I am here”.
- Be enthusiastic about your topic. If you aren’t then your audience won’t be either.
9. Remember that it is meant to be fun for yourself as well as your audience.