Why is so much public speaking—especially in the business world—so awful?
More important: How can we raise the bar, which is set so distressingly low?
Here are three thoughts:
1. Most speakers don’t organize a speech for the audience’s benefit.
New speakers make these same mistakes over and over:
- They tell personal stories chronologically. That’s never the most interesting or compelling way to tell a story. Instead, begin your story close to the end, at the most exciting point possible. Back-fill with crucial information, but to grab your audience, begin as close to the climax as you can. Don’t start with the planning for your trip to Mount Everest. Start us on the mountain. Better yet, start us near the top, when the wind is blowing, the temperature’s dropping, and your fellow climber’s in trouble. Now you’ve got the audience rapt.
- They overload the talk with information. We all love a little insider gossip, but just a little. We don’t want to know how many miles of Interstate highway there are, even if you know that fascinating fact. We do want to know how your suggested changes to driving practices and management could make my rush hour a breeze. Of course, because public speaking is a self-conscious activity, speakers tend to focus on themselves. Often from the best of intentions, speakers try to tell the audience everything they know about their subject. It’s too much.
- They don’t make the speech about the audience. The audience wants to know, “What’s in it for me?” Unless your talk is organized around that insight, you won’t engage that audience fully.
2. Most speakers don’t say what they really think.
Caution can take over when you have to voice your opinion to several hundred or several thousand people. Today, though, we have become impatient with the standard answer, the safe position, the comfortable truth. Unless you tell me something deeply authentic, probably shocking and most certainly unique, it isn’t worth my while. Give me something I can’t get in a few bullet points on Facebook, LinkedIn or a website. Make our time together count.
3. Most speakers fail to go deep.
We’re all so awash in information that, unless you’ve got something that will improve our lives, or will enlighten, surprise or delight us, we don’t have time to stop and listen. Listening skills are declining, not because we’re all trivial people, but because we have to take in vast amounts of information hourly, so we have to move fast.
Organize your speeches for the listeners’ benefit. Tell powerful stories that stop us in our tracks and make us clamor for more. Include only the essential stuff. Give me a powerful reason to hear you out.
Remember: The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.