How To Give a Speech

I hear from people every day telling me how nervous and unhappy they get when they have to make any kind of a presentation.  I must confess, I love to give a speech. It’s the most fun thing in the world.  That’s not to say I don’t get nervous, but once I start talking at the podium I am transfixed and have the best time.  The audience seems to like it, as well.

There are a few things I do that make it easier for me to give a talk.  Perhaps some of them will help you in your next presentation.

I only talk about things I like to talk about.  Sometimes I’ll get a request to speak on employee retention, for example. Employee retention is very important and we would all be unhappy if companies disregarded it.  But, I have no interest in employee retention.  I have learned, over the years, to turn down assignments that don’t suit me.

Regardless of the speech, or presentation or toast that I am giving, I always start with a story. Always.  It relaxes me.  It relaxes the audience and we all get off on the right foot and enjoy the time. It is fairly easy for me to use a real story from my own experiences because I remember lots of them and have learned to use them in many situations.  I also worked for 7 years in a pawnshop and I can always take a story from that part of my life and adapt it to the subject matter I’m speaking about.

In fact, my entire speech is a dozen stories strung together in some loose fitting fabric.  But, it seems to work.

I try to avoid heavy topics. I’m my best when I am doing self deprecating, marketing and advertising topics.  I avoid getting too serious or heavy handed.  That’s not to say I’m telling jokes.  I never tell jokes in a speech because if the joke doesn’t go over well, I’m toast.

I also schmooze with the audience before I go up front to speak to get to know a few people in the crowd and chat with them.  If they ask, I tell them what I’ll be talking about that night.  I might even try my story opening on them to get some last minute rehearsal of it.  Knowing a few people in the audience also gives me folks to look at during the talk.  That makes me feel much more comfortable.

I prepare more material that I’m probably going to give.  If the audience is enjoying my talk, I’ll give them more, but if the audience isn’t in sync with me, I’m very likely to make it a little shorter. Audiences love when the speaker talks less, so it’s still a win-win.

I customize my talk to the audience, if possible.  If I’m speaking to bankers, I’ll make observations about their industry.  Bankers are great to make fun of. He who has the money laughs last.

And then I rehearse.  And rehearse. And rehearse.

When giving the talk, I consciously try to work the whole room during the course of the speech. I make sure to look at everyone in the room at some point during the talk.

I don’t use a formal script, but I have a 3 ring note book with the flow of the talk and bullet points of things and stories and anecdotes I want to talk about.  I don’t have the stories written out.  I know them well enough that I talk off the cuff.  I connect much better with the audience that way.

If someone raises their hand and wants to ask a question in the middle of my speech, I welcome the interruption.  You never know where the question and answer will take you.

I know exactly how I will end my speech.  It may be with a story and a lesson learned from that story, or an anecdote, but I always know how I will end it.  This is very important.  Have you ever seen speakers who just don’t know how to bring their remarks to a close?  I want to end on a high note, so I’ve planned it out and deliver it with gusto.

There’s sometimes a Q&A period after my talk, and I again, have planned a story or ending to close the Q&A section.  I don’t like it when the talk just peters out.

There. I’m done. I had a great time.  The audience enjoyed themselves. Now on to the bar.


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