September 24, 2007

Is it a speech or a presentation?

There are a lot of words for what I do when I have a speaking engagement. I give presentations, talks, workshops, seminars and keynotes. I speak on panels and I give speeches. There are still more names for public speaking, but the format I enjoy the least is the "speech."

You know what a speech is. It's when someone stands up in front of the room and talks at the audience.

It's a more formal method of communicating information or expressing gratitude to a group, like at a wedding, banquet or awards show. Sometimes it's a keynote, which is meant to entertain or motivate. It's usually the only time someone can get away with reading directly from a piece of paper.

A speech imparts information, usually without visuals, and without interaction.

When I was in high school, I was on the speech team. We competed in tournaments all over the state. I had a couple of speeches that were lots of fun; one in particular was about brown-bagging. Don't ask me where I came up with that idea.

In a speech tournament, we delivered our speeches to an audience of other competitors and judges. We were judged on things like voice, movement, organization of content, and whether we stayed within our time limit, and in categories called "dramatic interpretation," "extemporaneous speaking," "oral interpretation," and others I can't remember.

It was when I got out into the "real world" of public speaking that I learned how limited those competitions were, and how little my speeches actually served the audience - even though I was having lots of fun!

1. For tournaments, I came up with whatever topic I thought was interesting; it didn't matter if it was relevant to the audience. In 100% of the presentations I give today, relevance to the audience is critical.

2. In tournaments, I only had to speak for about ten minutes. Since that time, I've rarely been asked to speak for fewer than 45. There's a huge difference in how you interact with the audience when they're captive in their seats for an hour.

A speech has limited uses: welcoming everyone to a meeting, talking about the state of the union to millions of people at the same time, offering a toast to your best friend at her wedding. A speech is one-way communication designed to inform and sometimes entertain. It serves a particular need, but mostly serves the needs of the speaker.

A presentation, on the other hand, is more like a conversation, a two-way street where both parties contribute. It might include visuals, interaction, discussion and other activities to educate, entertain and engage the audience. Seminars and workshops tend to be longer and more interactive than presentations, incorporating group work, experiential exercises and more interaction between participants.

Presentations make up the bulk of what most speakers will face, whether in job or media interviews, at networking events, in negotiating with vendors or salespeople, in pitching a product to a customer, at conferences, in giving reports or running staff meetings.

The "speech" has its place and yes, you can win a prize for it, but if you look at all your speaking engagements as speeches, you're missing out on some great opportunities to build relationships with your audience. Save the speech for its appropriate use, and focus on creating full-service presentations.

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1 comments. Please add yours! :

Matthew Cornell said...

Thanks a bunch for the clarification, Lisa. I've been asked to do presentations shorter than my one-day workshop, and this gives me perspective.

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