Whether it's designed to share a brand message with an unfamiliar crowd or to inspire employees during difficult times, a great speech can prove to be a critical tool in a business leader's communication toolkit.
What Makes a Great Speech?
One of the most important qualities of a great speech is that it’s relatively short.
Consider Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Both are powerful but brief, clocking in at two minutes and 17 minutes, respectively.
However, a speech’s length is only one factor. A great speech must also captivate the audience, be presented clearly and confidently, and have a well-defined message.
Here are some techniques you can use to deliver a great, memorable speech, whether it's for work or elsewhere.
1. Consider Your Speech a Performance
A speech is primarily about the words, but a performance is so much more. It’s inflection, gesture, tension, resolution, and suspense.
But it doesn't have to be overwhelming, and you don't have to be an Oscar winner to do it well.
Go see a one-person play, and you’ll instantly understand what I mean. Performers work hard at capturing and keeping an audience’s attention, and words are only one tool in their arsenal.
This means after you finish writing a speech, the work isn't done. Make sure to rehearse the speech in front of a few people, the mirror, or a recording device. You'll feel more confident after you've practiced, even if it's just a few times.
2. Harness the Power of Eye Contact
When nerves take over, you might naturally want to look at the floor, your slides, your hands, or the back of the room. But remember that you're in a room with humans who want to connect with you and your words.
If you try to make eye contact with people while you deliver your speech, they're more likely to feel personally engaged and gain your trust. Eye contact communicates confidence and authority – two traits key to conveying your point effectively.
3. Let Go of the Lectern
The lectern can be a crutch. It’s a physical barrier between you and your audience, and you may want to consider stepping out from behind it. Not only will your movement help create a livelier presentation, but it will help the audience perceive you as more open and accessible. Movement can also help ease your nerves.
To help you stay focused when delivering your speech, map out where you want to be on stage for each key point you want to make. You can record videos of your practice sessions to pick up on subconscious nervous gestures or ticks and work to correct them.
4. Pay Attention to Your Posture
Your body language conveys confidence. Slouching can make you look like you aren't confident. Practice standing up straight, keeping your shoulders back and your head steady. However, don't worry too much because your body will tighten, making you look and feel nervous. Remember to relax.
Additionally, breathing is important for calming your nerves. Slouching leaves less room for your lungs to fully breathe. Even if your speech is short, it’s critical to optimize your breathing habits so you feel better both mentally and physically.
Take deep, calm breaths as much as you need to beforehand. Don't forget to pause and breathe during the speech too. Taking care of yourself is crucial.
5. Spice Up Your Speech with Stories
The power of storytelling lies in the images that audience members create in their heads as you spin your yarn.
Try not to overload your speech with data points, unless it's primarily a data-driven topic. Listeners will be more likely to remember pertinent anecdotes that inspire compassion, elicit laughter, or simply intrigue them.
Stories – especially brief, relevant ones – are a powerful tool for delivering a great speech. Weaving them into your presentation can transform your listeners into active participants.
6. Vary Your Speaking Cadence
When delivering a speech, it’s important to deliberately mix up speaking patterns such as volume, speed, and tone.
When in doubt, slow down your speech to let your audience catch up – especially if you tend to speak quickly. Remembering to pause can be very helpful in steadying the speech.
If you know you’re naturally a fast talker, build some pauses into your speech. Determine points at which to take a breather, or incorporate statements like “Now think about that for a moment” or “Let that sink in.” It takes an audience more time to process your points than it will take for you to articulate them.
Remember that you're the expert. Give people time to ponder your brilliant message.
7. Discuss What You Know and Care About
If you're asked to give a speech, you're probably already an expert on the subject.
Passion translates to energy and authenticity, which help engage an audience. Emotion pulls the audience in and gets them invested in hearing more. Take them with you on this journey from the start by talking with passion.
If you find you’re not moved by your topic, modify it so it's more relevant to you and your audience. The more relevant it is, the more engaging your speech will be, and the more confident you'll feel delivering it.
As an expert worthy of giving a great speech, you'll likely excel at providing the main content points. But using these techniques can help you get your message across in a compelling and memorable way. Focus on crafting a clear, concise message that’s rife with relevant anecdotes. Practice the performance, adjust any small habits as needed, and remember that you deserve to be up there. Remember to breathe.
A version of this article was originally published on September 08, 2014.
Photo: Getty Images