Before any of us put pen to paper, we would do well to take a moment to look at things from the listener’s point of view. Regardless of the speaking opportunity, every audience wants the same three things from a speaker:
How many times have you listened to a speech and come away thinking, “What on earth was he trying to say?”
When listeners are confused by a presentation, their respect for the speaker diminishes. And if they aren’t listening respectfully, they will fail to absorb the lessons of the speech. It is not enough to be an expert with something important to say; you must also say it clearly. Anything less than effective communication defeats the purpose of your presentation.
How often does a member of the audience say that a speech was far too short? Watch any audience during a speech and you’ll see many listeners tune out after about ten minutes. Within 20 minutes, the speaker will have lost most of them completely.
So why do most speeches run on and on? The reasons range from the speaker’s inflated sense of self-importance to his or her lack of self-confidence. The best way to offset either tendency, and therefore hold the attention of your audience, is to be brief. Brevity and impact are closely related. To be brief, you must have command of your subject and express your knowledge succinctly.
In short, you must make your presentation more like a Super Bowl commercial than a State of the Union address.
A speaker’s third and greatest responsibility is to engage listeners. Simply put, you must try to make them think differently or, better still, act decisively.
For example, the eulogist at a funeral service strives to leave you with an indelible, positive impression of the deceased. The corporate executive presenting quarterly financial results aims to increase, or at least maintain, investor confidence in the company. The urban planner presenting a concept design for approval is determined to convince a city council that her redevelopment scheme will benefit the community. In each case, the speaker is attempting to reinforce or alter the beliefs of the listener and jumpstart a corresponding mood or action.
Remember that all good presentations make a single, strong point. Better presentations challenge the thinking of the listener. Great presentations bring about change.
When you put yourself in the audience’s seat before you write, it is far more likely that you will produce a memorable and compelling speech. Your words will excite members of the audience, inspire them, perhaps even change them. When you succeed at that, you’ll be well on your way to making a genuine difference in your community.
In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work; but, rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Put your listeners first, and you’ll leave them longing to hear more from you.
About the writer
Award-winning author, speechwriter and communications strategist Barry Potyondi has written speeches for clients ranging from nervous first-time award winners to chief executive officers of global Fortune 500 corporations. SPEAK EASY: A Short Guide to a Great Speech, his sixth non-fiction book, is available at www.howtowriteaspeech.ca.