A risky speaking gambit? Here’s the essential component for success

Presenting to a large audience invariably has potential perils. Like a tightrope walker, though, you must keep your eyes—and your physical presence—fully focused. Here’s the key element.

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A client had an unusual idea for an upcoming keynote speech in front of several thousand people.

In the middle of his talk, he wanted to show the audience a favorite four-minute music video. The video was on message and delivered his point in an interesting way, but the clip seemed too long and could diminish the energy in the room.

There’s also a rule of thumb that the power of the punch line must be commensurate with the length of the setup. In other words, the longer the lead-in, the better the punch line has to be. His punch line would be good, certainly, but was it that good?

For those reasons, I suggested that he show an edited version of the clip instead. The audience would get the point, and doing so would mitigate the risks of going too long.

He respectfully declined the advice. His demeanor when he did so inspired confidence that he would take his unconventional idea—one that went against many of the “rules” of public speaking—and make it work.

The essential element

It boils down to one word: commitment.

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