How to Give the Speech of Your Career

The best speeches don’t necessarily come from tech company CEOs. They can also come from regular people who have worked hard to design a speech that inspires and connects with an audience.

Dale Carnegie was famously quoted as saying, “There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” (Source: Brainyquote)

Here are some ways to give the speech you wish you gave:

Craft an engaging title for your speech

Expectation shapes reality. Your speech is more likely to be well received if people are expecting your talk to be good – so an engaging title is key. For inspiration, browse top business/careers blogs such as the Career Addict, Seth’s Blog or Mashable.

Develop a clear message

Develop a single, key message to communicate to your audience. A good tip is to make sure you can describe your message in a single sentence. It’s also important that your message answers the “Why am I here” question that your audience will be asking themselves.

Start with a strong hook

Begin in dramatic fashion: a provocative question, a stirring, bold statement, or an outlandish, but true statistic. For inspiration, check out sites such as Factsie or Unplugthetv.

Have a clear structure

Your speech should have a beginning, a middle and an end.  A simple structure is to split your main message into three, linked points and discuss each of the points. An alternative is to use a narrative structure; simply illustrate your core message with two to three stories. If you use the narrative structure, your speech doesn’t need to follow a chronological order: it can be very effective to start at the triumphant end of your story before jumping back to the beginning. For an example of a speech with a narrative structure, check out Steve Job’s 2005 commencement address at Stanford University.

Be passionate

Passion is infectious, so make sure your delivery reflects the passion and enthusiasm you have for your topic. People may forget the detail of your speech, but they’ll forget neither your passion nor the way they felt listening to you.

Use emotive language

We are emotional beings; we respond to emotion. Use emotive language judiciously, to convey your passion, commitment and conviction, as well as aspects of your core message that will resonate with your audience. Imperatives such as the word ‘must’ are a common way of adding emotion. Another technique is to use alliteration, e.g., “We Will Win”.  Still another is to use the personal pronoun “you”. Here are examples of using emotive language:

“You are right to be angry that we have allowed ourselves to become complacent.  We have suffered as a result. But we refuse to remain in this position. We must recover our lead.”

Employ ‘narrative devices’

Common narrative devices include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Repetition: In one of his more famous speeches, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, “Education, education, education”, using repetition to emphasise his key message and to improve its retention.
  • Contrast: Contrast refers to the juxtaposition of contrasting ideas, for example: “Let’s succeed together, not fail as individuals.”
  • Lists of three: Research has shown that it is easier to retain information presented in short lists than longer ones, and three is widely viewed as an effective number.  Example: “Internet trolls are bored, cowardly and vicious.”

Make sure your language is not only clear and unambiguous, but also interesting.  For example, instead of saying, “We will work hard to find the answer to the problem”, you could say, “We will work relentlessly to solve this problem.”

Polish up your presenting skills

Crafting your speech is only half of your work. You’ll also need to present it skillfully. Practice is key. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Speak at the right volume – make sure you can be heard at the back of the room.  If you aren’t certain of this, simply ask your audience if they can hear you.
  • Work’ the room – a good tip is to divide the room into quadrants and focus on a friendly face or two in each quadrant.
  • Maintain a good pace and tone – speak slowly enough to be heard, but not to make someone fall asleep.  Use your tone of voice to convey particular emotions.
  • Appear confident – Avoid obvious signs of nervousness such as crossed arms, which will distract your audience. An effective tip is to imagine that you are balancing a basket on your head. If necessary, ‘channel’ someone you know is confident: study their body language and imitate them.

Keep your speech to under 10 minutes

With ever dwindling attention spans, best practice is to keep your speech to under ten minutes (source: Forbes). Any longer than this, you risk your audience becoming bored and distracted.

Winston Churchill is widely viewed as one of the best public speakers of all time. Yet he too worked hard to prepare his speeches. (He also had a stammer and a lisp.) Preparation is everything. An outstanding speech doesn’t require you to be an outstanding orator. You can do it!

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