The secret wish of every speaker, once they’ve gotten past the goal of simply surviving the experience, is to have the audience leap to their feet as one at the end of the speech and deliver a heartfelt, rousing, long, noisy standing ovation.
Admit it: you want to deliver something extraordinary, something unforgettable – something that no one else can do.
It’s a tall order. Most of us are made of ordinary, human stuff. How do we take the ordinary and turn it into something unforgettable? What will transmute the regular into the unique, like the ancient wish to turn base metals into gold?
Here are some steps to take to begin the process of making oratory diamonds out of speaking coal.
First, find something authentic to say. The most important step comes first – digging deep internally to find the message that only you can deliver. No one else has lived your life, so begin by focusing on finding the story that only you can tell.
Second, figure out a single point to make. Speeches are not about telling everything you know – they’re about saying the one thing that you need to say. The hardest work of preparing a presentation comes here – winnowing down all the things you’d like to say to the one point that you must make. It’s why Churchill said, and I’m paraphrasing here, if you want a three-hour speech, I can be ready in 10 minutes. If you want a 10 minute speech, I’ll need three days. He understood the difficulty of brevity.
Third, dig into the emotion behind the point. Now that you know what you need to say, ask yourself why – why do I care about this idea? If you can get clear about the emotional reason for your connection with the point, you may be able to share it with someone else. Fundamentally, human connection comes through human emotion, not logic.
Fourth, figure out what you want your audience to do differently as the result of hearing your idea. People leap to their feet cheering when you empower them with an idea, not when you preach at them, or scold them, or tell them how wonderful you are. You have to leave room for the audience to do something. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s all about you – it’s not. It’s all about them. Focus on turning the point of the speech around to the audience, and giving them something to do.
Fifth, appeal to their higher instincts. Once you’ve honed the point, found the emotion, and pointed the audience toward something they can do, then it’s time to invoke common human goals and ideals. Don’t reach for the general too soon – start instead with the specific. But once you’ve made the case effectively for the particular, then it’s time to turn to the general.
Sixth, let it sink in. The secret to great speaking is emotion, but you have to give time to transfer the emotion from your heart to the audience’s. The only way for that to happen is to embrace the right kinds and durations of silence. The right pause at the right moment will seal the deal. That’s the secret to turning the work of the speech over to the audience.
Finally, picture the new reality. There are many ways to do this, including (obviously) slides and videos, but the most surprising way is with a prop. A speech is an act of imagination, and few things bring imagination to life like a physical embodiment of your idea. If you can hand out multiple props to the audience, even better.
Take these steps and watch the audience take your idea and give it back to you in the form of a standing O.