Do you master your speeches from exciting launch to powerful conclusion? Here's how to be a clear, concise, and compelling speaker.
How compelling a speaker are you?
Many presenters fail to come across effectively, not because they don’t know their material or their business. They leave out a crucial ingredient: getting across to one's audience in a clear, concise, and compelling manner.
Are you too infatuated with content to woo your audience? For a match made in heaven—great material combined with a dynamic performance—read my free Insights article, “Great Speaking? It’s About Performance Over Content!”
Recently, I was hired by a nonprofit to train four of its board members. A key issue, the Executive Director told me, didn’t involve public speaking skills. Rather, these executives—all committee chairs—were well practiced in presenting to the full board.
But not one of them could inspire confidence in their listeners. They all had a tendency, I was told, either to “cloud the message," or come across as nervous and unfocused.
I thought, "Well, that's a wonderful metaphor: to cloud one’s message." But how in the world do you correct that? Here are four ways I think you can do so—to speak for leadership by achieving clarity, conciseness, and a compelling demeanor. Achieving that will help you attain the charisma and presence that are cornerstones of achieving true influence.
#1. Use a Hook to Open Your Speech Effectively
Your first task is to open your speech effectively—to “hook” the audience in terms of engagement and interest. That’s a key part of not just inviting but compelling attention.
What constitutes an effective opening? Two things more than any other: (1) knowing what will move this particular audience, and (2) the element of surprise. Audiences expect mundane and uninteresting openings to speeches and presentations because they’ve been fed a steady diet of such talks. So surprise them instead—ideally with something that will make this audience sit up and take notice.
When Barack Obama began his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he started out this way: “Tonight is a particular honor for me because—let’s face it—my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely.” He went on to remind the national audience that his father was “a foreign student who grew up herding goats,” and his grandfather was “a domestic servant to the British.” A powerful U.S. Senator and future president chose an opening that was almost certainly what his audience didn’t expect, and so immediately piqued their interest.
For speech openings that will compel your listeners’ attention, see my article "How to Start a Speech — 12 Foolproof Ways to Grab Your Audience."
#2. Launch Strongly by Giving Listeners a Roadmap
Once you have your audience’s attention, give them a sense of the journey you'll be taking together. As the great success guru Dale Carnegie put it: “Tell ‘em what you’re going to say.”
This is a necessary part of achieving clarity. After all, is anything worse than audience members asking themselves, five minutes into a speech, “What’s this all about?” Your own speech should reveal—in as exciting a manner as you can muster—a roadmap of the trip you'll be taking everyone on.
I once worked with a CEO who was getting ready for his manufacturing company’s annual sales meeting. He wanted his talk to be different from the ones he had given in the past. Fortunately, the company was rolling out two big initiatives that year. So that became the theme I gave him to launch his speech: “These are exciting times.”
What followed were the slides with the in-store displays, the new designs, projected profits, etc. That was information that the audience needed and wanted to see. But it was that upcoming journey through "exciting times" that told them to perk up and pay attention.
#3. Use Compelling Evidence
Now let’s discuss the “concise” part of the formula. This section concerns presenting your ideas with authority, and that makes what you say compelling.
When it comes to persuading others and bringing them around to your views, your opinion matters, of course—but not as much as you think. Audiences need more than your thoughts. They need evidence.
As it happens, thinking along these lines also helps your conciseness. Speaking theoretically and in generalities is death to a speech. (Just look at those two words: 'theoretically' and 'generalities'—can't you just tell they'd sound boring in a talk?) But if you back up your claims with examples, well, you’ll be much more likely to compel agreement.
Here’s an easy way to think of all this: Each time you make a claim, back it up with evidence. Data, case studies, personal experience, an image . . . use anything that feels like proof. Let's say your company make medical devices and you're telling your team you need to create a smartphone app. Would it help to show a video of people addicted to their phones? You bet it would! (One of my clients actually did this in a keynote speech, and it was hilarious.)
So ask yourself this: If evidence is this important, can your speech be a collection of theoretical points without concrete examples? Uh-uh.
#4. Craft a Memorable Conclusion to Your Speech
Now that you’ve opened well, told the audience where you’re going, and supported each argument, you’re ready to seal the deal. You need a compelling conclusion, which means knowing how to end a speech vividly and memorably. Don’t be like too many speakers who throw away this chance for lasting influence.
For some reason, most speakers spend far more time thinking about the opening of their speech than the closing. Why? It’s true that you need to engage your audience from the start and demonstrate credibility and authority. But what good is a speech that trails off weakly at the end, or worse, that drops off a cliff with a “Thank you” that the audience isn’t yet ready for?
Sure, you should be able to keep an audience’s attention if you know your stuff and you're prepared. But will your message continue to resonate with listeners for a week, a month, or even years later?
The answer is yes—if you pay attention to the care and feeding of your ending. It’s not enough to simply recap your message, for instance. Your ending must have impact. Whatever you say last should continue to bounce around inside the head of your listeners like the steel ball in a pinball machine. Whatever their momentary response, your audience should not be able to get what you say out of their minds afterwards.
And here’s some good news about crafting a strong conclusion: the same techniques that helped you hook your audience, are equally effective in creating an unforgettable conclusion. Once again, you'll find them here. They work to get listeners interested in what you’re about to say. But they also help keep your influence flowing after you've finished speaking.
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