Are clarity and conciseness on the menu when you present? Here's how to go beyond information delivery to be a compelling and persuasive speaker.
How compelling a speaker are you?
Many presenters fail to come across effectively, not because they don’t know their material or their industry. The necessary ingredient is getting across to your audience in a clear, concise, and compelling manner. And that’s where some speakers lose their way.
If you're like many speakers, you may be too infatuated with your content, rather than what should be your true object of interest: your audience. For a match made in heaven—great material combined with a dynamic performance—read my Insights article, “Great Speaking? It’s About Performance Over Content!”
Recently, I was contacted by a nonprofit organization concerning public speaking training for four of its board members. A key issue, the Executive Director informed me, didn’t involve speaking in public. Instead, these four members of the board—all committee chairs—most often made presentations to the full board of directors.
Unfortunately, none of the four inspired confidence in their listeners. I was told they had a tendency to “cloud the message, or were nervous, or unfocused.”
What a wonderful metaphor, I thought: to cloud one’s message. But how do you stop it from happening? Below are four ways you can speak for leadership by achieving clarity and conciseness, instead of the gloom of a message that doesn’t come through brilliantly. Doing so will help you attain the charisma and presence that are cornerstones of achieving true influence.
How to Open a 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 your audience’s attention.
What constitutes an effective opening? Two things more than any other: knowledge on your part of what will move this particular audience, and 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 thisaudience 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 that 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."
How to Launch Your Speech Strongly
Once you have your audience’s attention, tell them where you and they will be going together. As the great speech guru Dale Carnegie put it: “Tell ‘em what you’re going to say.”
This is part of achieving clarity in your talk. For is anything worse than an audience that says, five minutes into a speech, “What’s this all about, anyway?” Instead, your speech should reveal—in as exciting a way as you can muster—the journey you and the audience will be taking together.
I once worked with a CEO who was preparing for his company’s annual sales meeting. He wanted it to be different from the sales meetings of prior years. Fortunately, the company was putting in place some exciting new initiatives. So that became the theme I gave him to help launch his speech: “These are exciting times.”
All the slides with the sales figures by product line and fiscal quarter followed. And they made up important information that his audience wanted and needed to hear. But to be told first that they were about to take a trip through “exciting times,” made all the difference to his sales force in terms of both clarity and an irresistible invitation.
How to Use Compelling Evidence in a Speech
Now let’s discuss the “concise” part of our formula. It concerns presenting your ideas with authority, which in turn aids the compelling nature of your speech.
In terms of persuading others and bringing them around to your views, your opinion matters—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. To speak theoretically and in generalities is to deliver the death knell to a speech. But if you back up the general picture with examples, you’ll be much more likely to compel agreement.
Here’s an easy way to think of all of this: Each time you make an important assertion, show that phenomenon in action. Where’s the data, the customer testimonial, the story, personal anecdote, or other demonstration that makes your point come alive?
If you’re the medical device manufacturer telling your team they need to be creating apps for smart phones, would it help to show a video clip of real people demonstrating their smart phone addiction in public? You bet it would! (One of my clients did this in a keynote speech, to hilarious and very successful effect.)
So ask yourself this: If evidence is this important, can your speech be a collection of theoretical points without frequent concrete examples? Of course not.
How to Craft a Memorable Conclusion to Your Speech
Now that you’ve opened your speech effectively, told the audience where you’re going, and offered frequent illustrations to support your argument, you’re ready to seal the deal with a compelling conclusion. Don’t be like too many speakers who ignore this final chance to use their public speaking skills to achieve 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?
As I tell my speech coaching clients, virtually anyone can keep an audience’s attention if they’re reasonably knowledgeable and prepare well. But whose message will continue to resonate with listeners long after the presentation has ended, for weeks, months, or even years afterward?
The answer is: the speaker who pays careful attention to his or her ending. It’s not enough to simply recap your message, important as it is to do so. You must end vividly and memorably. Your culminating point should continue to bounce around inside the head of your listeners, like a ball in a pinball machine. Whatever their response at the moment you were speaking, 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. Here they are again: those 12 ways to engage an audience’s attention. If they work to get listeners interested in hearing what you’re about to say, why not use them to keep your influence flowing, long after you’ve finished speaking?
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