‘Why should they listen to me?’ This is the key question that every speaker should ask themselves before delivering a speech.
There are three things you need to get straight before you go on stage. All good speeches have these three golden principles in common, and when you have a grip on these, the details follow more easily, and you, and your audience, will know exactly why they should be listening to you.
Audiences are very good at sniffing out the bogus. If you think about great public speakers – whether they are declaring war or telling a joke – there is something about their message that is unique to them.
Great speeches don’t just happen on the page; the best speeches are tethered to the person who makes them. If you are delivering a speech that doesn’t come from your heart, you should look at how to make it uniquely your own. There should be something about your speech or presentation that makes it impossible to be told by anyone else: if a story isn’t personal to you, the speaker, then why use it? Even if the events in a story happened before you were born, you should make them relevant to you.
Authenticity is vital, and it is why we take more away from the speaker who stumbles through expressing their heartfelt emotions than we do from the slick professional who has every adjective worked out in advance.
Many speakers fear the disapproval of the audience, although the majority of audiences will be on the speaker’s side. If the audience is against the speaker, there is usually a good reason for it (the event is running late, they haven’t had a break, etc.), and good speakers deal with this early.
But even when the audience is on-side, you must not ignore their needs. It might be a clear explanation of complex data, it might be an inspiring story or it might be a chance to go to the toilet: no joke here, you try and concentrate with a full bladder.
When you’re putting together a speech or presentation, your first thought should be about the audience’s experience: how can you ‘sell’ your message? How can you get the audience to want to listen to you?
Don’t talk to your audience, talk with them. Find out who they are, and why they are there, and make your message relevant and useful to them. Don’t get onto a stage without having a really clear idea about what you want to have achieved by the time you leave.
Put the audience’s needs first, and you will avoid a lot of trouble.
Remember: YOU OWN THE STAGE. You can be vulnerable, but you cannot doubt that you have authority to say the things that you are saying. You can admit to failings and mistakes – so long as you are in charge of what you are talking about. Audiences like to be guided, and if you lose your authority they will stop listening to you.
There is no getting away from the fact that speaking in front of others is an act of leadership, and perhaps this is why people fear it.
When an audience invests their trust in someone who steps away from the script, looks them in the eye and connects in a way that you cannot get outside a live experience, it is a powerful moment for everyone in the room. The moment should startle, sparkle, reach deep and make ripples. And as speakers, sharing a moment like this should be our goal, or we have no business being on stage.