8 essential tips for a strong speech

Say goodbye to the days of snoozing audience members. These tips will make your next speech strong and compelling.

All you hard-core business types who believe that communication is a “soft skill” that only matters when everything is going smoothly, consider this from Vanity Fair magazine:

“During his first earnings call with analysts, (Google CEO Larry) Page read, with a discernible lack of enthusiasm, a 394-word statement, then took off before the traditional question-and-answer session. The next day Wall Street lopped $15 billion off his company’s market value. His second appearance, in July, beat expectations and wowed investors, driving the stock price up by 12 percent.”

I watched a bank CEO address 100 MBA faculty and students with a speech that had the thrill of an airport security line. I wondered, “How does this drone motivate employees and investors?” He’s gone now. The bank is too.

A university system president rallied public support with a presentation as exhilarating as my last urology exam. She and her content were numbing. She’s gone, too.

Also, each week many of us watch smart, educated folks give civic club speeches that would cure insomnia.

My point is that in a time of unprecedented communication opportunities, many of us still must learn from Larry Page’s lesson. Business acumen does not survive in a vacuum. We must use it through our ability to convey vision, goals, information and passion—our ability to communicate.

Since precious few have David Letterman’s humor or High Point University President Nido Qubein‘s phenomenal skill to speak without notes, let me remind you of some wonderful public speaking chestnuts:

1. Build upon talking points. Talking points are the skeleton beneath successful analyst calls, speeches, important conversations, and interviews. They provide a solid focus.

2. The audience comes first. Connect with audience members so they care about you. Frame your information through their eyes. If you give a speech about your non-profit, filter it through the audience’s interests and concerns.

3. You are the message. Six months after your presentation, audience members might not remember your comments or PowerPoint slides, but they sure as heck will remember you. Be the best you can be. How? Take a look at the next tip.

4. Make a point; tell a story. This is especially important if you are shy. Sprinkle experiences and anecdotes into your speech to illustrate the most important points. Learn to ad-lib these stories so they can temporarily liberate you from the written page, unleash genuine emotions, energize the remaining words, and humanize you and your organization.

5. Anticipate worst-case questions. Draft good responses to potentially embarrassing inquiries.

6. Address internal audiences first. Weighty information should go to stakeholders before anyone else.

7. Start—and end—strong. Everyone listens to you for the first couple of minutes of your speech, so hit them with a powerful opening statement, story or anecdote. Don’t blow precious seconds on an innocuous “Well, it’s a pleasure to be here again,” or “Wow, how about this weather?”

Save your call to action or your second-best story for the conclusion, and deliver it after you take questions from the audience.

8. Prepare, prepare, prepare. This is the best antidote for nerves. Most professionals are nervous—they just rehearse until they know they have their presentation down. There are no shortcuts here.

Go forth and communicate!

Rick Amme is the owner of Amme & Associates, Inc.

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