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What’s the secret to giving a good speech? How should you prepare for a speech?
Public speaking is frightening to many people, but being prepared will help calm your nerves. Once you feel confident enough to get up on stage, you’ll be able to deliver a powerful speech that will inspire others.
Below, we’ll look at how to give a good speech that’s authentic and unforgettable.
Why a Passionate Speech Is Important
Choosing a topic that you’re passionate about is important for several reasons, according to Carmine Gallo’s book Talk Like TED. First, if you deeply care about the subject you’re about to talk about, you’re less likely to feel nervous about your presentation. You’ll be so excited about getting to share your passion with the world that the idea of your speech going wrong won’t even cross your mind.
Second, when you’re passionate about your topic, you’re likely to speak enthusiastically. You’ll therefore be more interesting to watch than a bored and lackluster speaker. People are more likely to actually pay attention to you and what you’re saying, and your message is more likely to sink in.
Finally, studies have shown that feelings are contagious—they spread from person to person. Therefore, if you speak with passion, your audience will feel your excitement, and they’ll listen intently to what you’re saying.
TED Talk Example: Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor
In 2008, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor gave a TED talk about a severe stroke she’d suffered 12 years earlier. She described in detail how she slowly felt her brain function deteriorating as the stroke progressed. Taylor also discussed the spiritual awakening that her stroke triggered.
The response to Taylor’s TED talk was overwhelmingly positive. It was the first TED talk to go “viral” online, quickly accumulating millions of views. In the aftermath of the talk, Taylor’s book detailing her stroke and recovery process became a bestseller and was translated into 30 languages. TIME magazine named her as one of the top 100 most influential people of 2008.
Gallo argues that the key to Taylor’s talk’s success lay in her true passion for her subject. She was fascinated by and enthusiastic about the topic, not only because it related to a transformative experience in her life, but also because she was a trained neuroanatomist. Even before her stroke, Taylor’s life’s work and passion had been studying the brain and its workings.
This passion shone through as Taylor gave her TED talk. Her enthusiasm and energy were infectious, and the result was a speech that captivated millions of people worldwide.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you must be able to speak passionately about your product, service, or idea for two reasons. First, research has shown that you’re more likely to secure funding from investors if you speak passionately about your business. In one study, investors ranked passion as the third most important criteria when deciding whether or not to offer funds to a business leader.
Second, if you can’t muster passion when discussing your business idea with your employees, they won’t feel passionate about the business either. Consequently, they won’t care about the business enough to work hard on their daily tasks. Your company’s performance will likely suffer as a result.
To ensure that you consistently speak passionately about your business, make sure you genuinely care about the product or service you’re putting out into the world. Lots of people pursue a business idea not because they’re really passionate about it, but because they think it’ll generate a quick profit. Don’t fall into this trap. If you do, you’ll struggle to recruit the people who really matter: committed investors and dedicated employees. Without them, it’s unlikely you’ll get your business off the ground, let alone make a huge profit.
The 4 Steps of Writing a Good Speech
Now let’s look at the ways to give a good speech that your audience will remember. We’ve broken down this process into four steps: writing and rehearsing your speech, practicing relaxation techniques, using confident body language, and closing out strong.
1. Write and Rehearse Your Speech
Writing your speech is the first step. Winging it might make you look disorganized, as you haven’t rehearsed what you’re going to say beforehand. If your thoughts seem scattered, your audience will less likely listen to what you have to say.
Know Your Audience
Before you sit down to write a good speech, Joel Schwartzberg’s book Get to the Point! suggests knowing who your audience will be first. You also need to know what they want from you, so you can tailor your message, language, and tone to them.
For example, if you’re giving a speech to students at an all-boys high school, your delivery and the stories you use to illustrate your point should be relevant to them and should be different from how you’d convey your message to a roomful of female entrepreneurs. With the first group, you might take the tone of “coach” or “mentor,” while the second group would appreciate your talking to them like a peer.
Present Something New
Talk Like TED recommends presenting something new to your audience to capitalize on the human brain’s love of learning new things. According to neuroscientists, when we learn something new, the brain releases dopamine—a hormone that makes us feel good. Because this dopamine rush is so pleasurable, people constantly seek out ways to replicate it: In other words, they look for sources of new knowledge. If you provide this knowledge during your talk, you’re more likely to keep people interested in what you’re saying.
Likewise, because what you’ve said has made your audience feel good, they’re more likely to be receptive to you and your ideas. They’ll link what you’re saying with feeling positive, and they’ll respond with positivity in turn.
Tell a Story
The third principle of preparing a good speech is telling your audience stories. Incorporate at least one of the following three types of stories into your presentations:
Type #1: A story from your own life. For example, in a speech about your career, you could tell a story about the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far. In a presentation about an amazing sale you recently made, you could tell the story of how you secured the deal.
Type #2: A story about someone else. This “someone else” could be someone you know personally, a famous person, or a historical figure: anyone who’s had an experience that relates to the topic you’re discussing. For example, when giving a presentation to your colleagues about a new management style you’ve read about, you could tell the story of the person who created the management style and how it worked for them.
Type #3: A story about a product or brand. In some situations, this may involve telling a story about a product or brand that you’ve created. For example, if you’re making a speech to launch your new product, you could tell your audience the story of how you came up with the product’s design.
Other scenarios may require you to tell a story about someone else’s product or brand. For instance, if you’re giving a presentation about why your marketing team should adopt a new brand strategy, you could tell them a story about how a competing brand successfully implemented the strategy.
Incorporate a Shocking Moment
The fourth principle of effective public speaking is incorporating a shocking moment into your speech or presentation. A “shocking moment” is an event that your audience doesn’t anticipate, but which deeply surprises, impresses, or moves them.
Including a shocking moment in your presentations will benefit you in three ways. First, the unexpectedness of the moment will grab your audience’s attention. They’ll become totally focused on what you’re saying and doing, and are therefore more likely to absorb your ideas.
Second, shocking moments get people talking. Your audience will rush to tell everyone they know about the surprising thing they just heard or witnessed. In the process, they’ll spread information about your talk and the ideas you communicated.
Finally, shocking moments are memorable: They frequently stick in an audience’s mind after your presentation. The more your audience thinks about the shocking moment, the more they contemplate the idea you were trying to get across—and the more likely they are to act on that idea.
Follow the Rule of Three
To make your talks brief, follow the Rule of Three, which states that you should only communicate a maximum of three ideas in any one presentation. For example, if you’re asked to give a presentation on your sales successes in the last quarter, pick just three transactions to discuss.
Following the Rule of Three will naturally reduce the time you spend speaking since you’re setting restrictions on the amount of information you’re going to communicate. It’ll also increase the likelihood of your audience absorbing everything you say. Research suggests that the maximum number of ideas that the brain can process at once is three: Add any more ideas than this, and your audience simply won’t remember them.
Practice Again and Again
Once you’ve fully planned your speech or presentation, practice it again and again. If you don’t rehearse before you speak, you won’t know your talk’s structure or content very well. As you present, you’ll spend all of your mental energy contemplating logistical issues such as when to move on to the next slide and what’s actually on the next slide. Consequently, you won’t have the focus required to state your ideas clearly and smoothly.
You might think that the most important element of practicing your presentation is memorizing its content. This is undoubtedly important—you don’t want to get up on stage only to find that you can’t remember what you’re supposed to be talking about. However, there are three other things you need to practice as well. These are:
- Verbal delivery
- Confident body language
- Hand gestures
2. Practice Relaxation Techniques
In TED Talks, Chris Anderson says the fear of public speaking is two-fold: There is the in-the-moment fear of temporary humiliation—stumbling over words, forgetting what to say, and so on. Then there is the long-term fear of a damaged reputation. Most people care deeply about what others think of them, and they worry that a public flop will change the way they’re viewed. While these fears are normal and common, Anderson stresses that they must be overcome. Why? Because you’ll likely have to speak publicly at some point, whether you fear it or not, so you might as well reap the rewards of good public speaking.
To get rid of the anxiety that comes with public speaking, The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown suggests practicing mindfulness. Calm is the discovery of perspective through mindfulness. Calmness is the antidote to anxiety because it allows you to look at the source of your anxiety in a reasonable way. For example, if you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming date, a moment of calm can lead to the realization that the stakes of a single date are relatively low, allowing you to enter the date collected and emotionally available.
Calmness requires practice, especially in high-stress situations. When your anxiety is triggered, use the following steps as a guide to calmness:
- Breathe. Take a few deep breaths and focus on nothing but your breathing for a moment.
- Respond to anxiety triggers with questions. This will give you a moment to calm down and gauge the severity of the situation.
- After thinking through the situation, ask yourself, “Is there enough information to justify an anxious meltdown?”
- If the answer to that is, “Yes,” ask yourself, “Will melting down be helpful?” In almost every situation, the answer to this final question will be, “No.”
Curbing Instant Emotional Reactions
According to Brown’s other book The Gifts of Imperfection, another aspect of practicing calmness is stopping yourself from instantly reacting to your strong emotions.
When you experience these strong feelings, you may rush to express them just to get them out of your head and stop them from affecting you as much. However, this desperation to express feelings may cause you to hastily react in a harmful way.
To stop yourself from instantly reacting to your emotions before or during giving a speech, you could:
- Wait before reacting. This gives your strong emotions time to cool down.
- Take ten deep breaths in and out: breathing exercises like this can promote calmness.
- Take the time to evaluate the possible effects of expressing your emotion. Consider whether expressing your feelings right now will really help matters.
3. Use Confident Body Language and Tone
Body language is key to appearing confident during a presentation or speech, according to Jordan Belfort’s book Way of the Wolf. With only a little training in improving your body language, you should see a 50 percent uptick in audience reception. And what’s especially advantageous about this part of the training is that you already know all of the tone and body language principles and have done them countless times.
The principles all have to do with modulation: lowering or raising your voice to put an exclamation point on an argument or to draw someone in closer. If you come off as being sharp from the start, then you can bottle enthusiasm for the product, deploying it to help you move from left to right on the line.
When you’re deploying enthusiasm, it’s important to consider who you’re convincing, and the difference between the conscious and unconscious mind. The best speaker will use words to influence the conscious mind and tone and body language to influence the unconscious.
When a person first meets you, they see what you look like and how you move and make a snap judgment about whether they like and trust you.
If you have off-putting body language, then no matter how good your pitch or tone, the prospect will be physically repulsed and uninterested in working with them.
Dressing and looking professional is important—looking like you have your life in order can help you project confidence.
This begins with dress: Wearing a suit (for a man or woman) projects power. Too much cologne or perfume, or showing up somewhere looking like you’re going to a club or a gym, and people won’t take you seriously.
For men’s facial hair, anything other than a very closely cropped beard or mustache looks unkempt and suggests a lack of care or pride (obviously there are exceptions like in the Middle East, where wearing a beard is customary).
The equivalent for a woman would be some sort of extreme hairdo or excessive jewelry. On this note, the worst thing a man can wear is a pinky ring with a big diamond in it. It gives off the look of a hustler.
On the whole, the most important thing is to dress in congruence with your profession. If you’re a plumber it wouldn’t make sense to show up in a suit. Rather, you’d be in a crisp uniform.
Keep Eye Contact
In TED Talks, Chris Anderson explains why eye contact is so important when giving a good speech: Neuroscientists have proven that when you look into someone’s eyes, your emotions naturally sync up. For example, if you look into the eyes of a nervous person, you’ll start to feel nervous; look into the eyes of someone who is sad, and you’ll feel sad. Eye contact with an occasional, genuine smile will make your audience feel relaxed and trust you.
Anderson’s advice: Greet your audience, choose a few people to make eye contact with, nod hello, smile, then begin.
4. Close Out Strong
Anderson warns that a spectacular talk can be ruined by a bad ending. The way a talk ends is the way the audience will remember it. Avoid boring endings, asking for money, or alluding that there was more you couldn’t get to.
Instead, Anderson offers these five strategies for ending your talk on a high note:
- Apply what you’ve discussed to a broader situation. For example, “If this management style can transform Fortune 500 companies, imagine what it could do in the White House.”
- Declare a personal mission. End your speech by proclaiming how you are going to use this knowledge to improve the world.
- Leave them with a dream. Paint a picture of a better world. Inspire your audience with your dream for the future, but be sure to avoid clichés.
- Call them to action. Ask your audience to take the information you just gave them and do something with it. For example, “If we all contact our congressmen, they’ll have to listen.”
- End with beautiful language. A poetic statement, song lyric, or eloquent phrase can add a somber and memorable touch.
Anderson says whichever way you choose to end your talk, a short and simple “thank you” (followed by a pause for applause) before walking offstage is always successful.
Now that you know the fundamentals of giving a good speech, it’s time to go out there and impress your audience with what you’ve learned. Remember to stand tall, speak with the utmost confidence, and make the best first impression on the audience.
Did we miss any ways to give a great speech? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!
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