Clients often ask me, “How can I raise my game?” or “How can I take my speaking to the next level?” or “How can I deliver a kick-ass keynote?”  It usually turns out that they’re thinking about delivery.  They’re looking for some secret voodoo hand gesture that will turn them into charismatic combinations of Mick Jagger and the Pope.  (Now, that would be the trick, wouldn’t it?)

But long before you’re ready to deliver the speech you should be thinking about what you’re going to say.  If the content is kick-ass, it greatly raises the chances that the speech will be a success.  No speech is truly idiot-proof, but some speeches are way more likely to succeed than others.

So how do you raise the game on your presentation content?  Here are five ways to think about your speech, ways that will elevate the success of the occasion for you.

1.Figure out what the underlying emotion is and intensify it.  You need to be clear about what the emotion is that governs the speech.  Is it excitement?  Concern?  Curiosity?  Take that emotion and figure out how to intensify it.  Raise the stakes, double down on the urgency, add complications and tension and conflict.  Controversy always makes a speech more interesting.

2.Figure out something real that the audience can contribute to the speech.  I’m continually surprised by how rare audience participation continues to be in most speeches at most conferences around the world.  Sure, it’s easier to simply talk for your 30 or 45 minutes, so that you don’t have to take the messiness of audience response into account, but really?  Don’t you care what the people in front of you think?  Beyond merely asking for a show of hands?  That, my friends, does not count as audience participation.  For you to get full credit, the audience actually has to do something real.  They can testify, tell stories, play games, compete, design things, make choices – but they have to do something real.

3.Figure out something real you can bring to the stage.  Speakers are so in love with their PowerPoint that they think of slides as something tangible.  They’re not.  They’re just pictures.  Sure, you can show a picture of a dog, but how much more thrilling would a real dog be?  The typical virtual workplace is full of fake things – pictures on screens, voices of people you never see, birthday wishes from Facebook friends – that it’s really exciting for most office workers when you show them something real.

4.Do something creative that hasn’t been done before. Wrap presents and put them under the audience’s chairs. Bring live music to the presentation.  Share the stage with a surprise “celebrity” guest.  Start the speech from somewhere else besides the front stage.  There must be some relevant way to jazz up your speech with a creative approach that hasn’t been done before in that venue, with that group.  The key is to break the norms of that particular event, venue, or group – in a positive, fun way.  And the other key is to make it relevant.  Don’t bring in a brass band just because you love brass bands.  Make it connect to the presentation, somehow.

5.Over-deliver on some aspect of the speech. Remember the famous moment when Oprah said, “Everyone gets a car!”? Well, you might not have the funds to deliver on that particular gift, but what else could you do?  Could you make a gift to a charity in the audience’s name?  Could you offer a free something to the audience?  For an internal audience – could you give everyone a day off, staggered through the year?  Could you personalize some aspect of the speech, or some relevant takeaway, and makes sure everyone in the audience gets one?  We don’t expect you to be Oprah, but what can you do?

Using these ideas alone or in combination should allow you to pep up your presentation enough to take it to the next level.

Take your presentation to the next level with us at our one-day Powerful Public Speaking workshop on March 31st in Boston.  Sign up now – spaces are going fast!


  1. Hi Nick

    I like to think of a speech as an emotional roll a coaster ride for the audience and not always a slow climb to the top, sometimes to start from the top and drop them down.

    I once gave a talk about our favorite dogs, Yorkshire Terriers or Yorkshire Terrorists if you come near our home. At the end I did suggest I could show pictures of Yorkies but instead……….I had, my son, Sean, outside the room with our dog Ned, I gave Sean a wave and he opened the door and Ned ran up to the top of room and into my arms.

    A client rang recently asking for help and he told me rang as he was in the audience that day, which was some years a go, he was very impressed with the speech, Ned got an extra bone as commission.

    Thank you as always.

    Kindest regards
    John Keating

    1. PS — I also like the idea of an emotional roller coaster ride. Story arcs have to be managed with great care, and the movie analogy is not always apt, because a movie is a 2-hour connection with lots more visual input, music, sound, etc, but movies have a wide variety of arcs, slow builds, the intensity-rest-intensity of an action movie, the final heart-breaking close of a tragedy, and so on. Speeches, within their more limited scope, need a variety of arcs, too.

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