The one thing you should NEVER do when speaking


Giving a good speech is a conflicting endeavor. You certainly know when you hear a good one. The speaker typically speaks to the audience like they’re old friends. They aren’t reading and it doesn’t sound “scripted.” They are present without feeling stiff.

The conflict to giving compelling speeches… you have to learn your content without sounding like you memorized it.

But for many who don’t do this regularly, or even those who do, it is not a natural talent. I am here to share, it wasn’t mine either! I was absolutely terrified of public speaking and never ran for student council in school because the thought of writing and giving a speech sounded like the worst thing ever.

But even feeling that way, I knew the ability to speak publicly was a skill worth having, so I took my first public speaking course my junior year of high school. The feedback was not good! I will never forget the feedback I received:

  1. My voice shook
  2. I couldn’t be heard past the third row
  3. I read, not delivered, my speech

Umm, yeah, I thought, I worked hard writing it so I wanted to get it right. What it took me years to realize is that getting it right is not about the exact perfect words, it is about the real emotion, the message, and delivering it in a way that you connect with your audience.

How do you do that? Here are three steps to more powerful speaking:

  1. Be clear on your key message.  What are you trying to tell your audience? What story (or stories) will help reinforce that message and evoke the emotional connection? When you try to memorize word for word you are likely to get tripped up with trying to say the right thing. Remembering the overall message will help you stay on course. Telling a story, even messily, makes it more real and evokes the true emotion from you and your audience. It’s okay to get off track as long as you stay connected to your purpose!
  2. Select three key points you want to make that relate to each other. Think about which order you should present and what story, statistic, quote or information will exemplify each key point. Add a question  or two to the audience and make it a conversation more than a presentation. Allow yourself to have an honest conversation with someone brave enough to share an experience with you while you’re presenting.
  3. Only memorize the necessaries – beginning and end. The two times you have the greatest impact are your opening and closing. The opening sets the tone and captures attention. It answers the question for the audience, “why do I care?” The closing is the last thing they hear and what stays with them. These are the only two moments during a speech I support memorization so you can have the desired impact. Think of this as your take off and landing point. Memorizing your first and last lines can give you the assurance that you will start and end on a great note.

Memorizing is an incredible skill, but the magic of a powerful speech comes from the passion someone has for the topic. The fact is, if you love what you’re talking about the odds are you don’t need to memorize anything. Find the passion in the message you’re bringing and the presentation will flow from it.

I’ve known speakers that do well in small groups but struggle with large ones and vice versa. There is no perfect equation that applies to everyone. You’ll find your unique way of presenting – the only way to get better is to do it! So what’s your next opportunity? Get out there and make it happen!

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