If you’ve been to some kind of corporate event (a gala, fundraiser, charity, etc), you probably rank that experience by how good the speakers were. The more memorable the speech, the more memorable the event. No pressure.
Whether you’re giving a welcome speech at your company’s yearly sales and marketing meeting or preparing a keynote address for a charity ball, we’ve got 9 tips for crafting and executing an unforgettable speech that moves audiences and leaves a lasting impact long after the event is over.
1. Appeal to emotions
Studies show that we are more likely to encode information into our long-term memory if there’s an emotion attached (test it out – it’s true). It’s also an ancient rhetorical means of persuading an audience. Remember Aristotle’s Ethos, Pathos, and Logos? Speech tip 1 is all about Pathos.
Ethos, Pathos, and Logos are techniques in which a speaker tries to persuade the audience by appealing to their ethical code, emotions, or rationale. These methods are tried and true, and if you break down a successful speech, you’ll inevitably find evidence of all three.
When you attach emotion to information in a speech, you’re making a pathetic appeal to the audience’s feelings. Ideally, your appeal evokes empathy and the audience will be more open to persuasion.
So how do you use pathos when you’re giving a speech? Here’s an example: It’s a fundraiser or charity event, and you’re speaking to a group of potential donors or lawmakers. You need to get the audience on your side and persuade them to take action. While our natural instinct may be to guilt audiences with a devastating story, it’s more effective to inspire positive change with positivity. One way to appeal to emotions might be a human-interest story about a family who survived a natural disaster, or a child beating a rare disease – show them an inspiring story of people overcoming an obstacle. This shows the audience what could be if more people stepped up to help or donated to the cause.
Basically, when you link emotion to a claim or information, your audience is more likely to remember it, and According to Aristotle, they’re more likely to be persuaded.
The goal of repetition is to steer the audience toward the most important information by using the key message as a touchstone and deliberately circling back to it in each section of the speech. A great speech repeats important words, phrases, and thematic elements.
How to use it: Pare down your key message to its simplest form. Uncover the essence of the message. What are the feelings behind it? Think of some metaphors and different ways to express the essence of the message. For example, if you’re trying to convince an audience of students not to engage in drugs, rather than saying “don’t do drugs” 15 times, find different ways to express that sentiment like, “keep your mind sharp,” or “be the example for your friends.” When you provide your audience with different ways to think about your message, they’re more likely to understand and remember it.
Not only are they memory aids for your audience (and you), but repetition and parallelism are great stylistic devices that provide a sense of structure, simplicity, and balance. They help your audience become familiar with the content, and familiarity offers a sense of reliability. It’s like reassuring your audience that you won’t be hard to follow.
While repetition is repeating words, ideas, and messages throughout a speech, parallelism is the repetition of structural elements in a sentence to accentuate similarities or differences.
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
4. Speak to your audience’s interests
Here’s another persuasion method from good ole’ Aristotle, and trust me, it’s a good one – guy knew his stuff.
Demonstrating goodwill is a component of Ethos, which Aristotle contends to be the most powerful form of persuasion because it’s where the speaker demonstrates the quality of their character to earn the trust of the audience. Basically, you’re showing the audience that you’ve done your research – not only on the topic at hand but on them – you have investigated their interests, you know why they’re here, and you know what they care about.
Example: you’re speaking to a young group of professionals – the hungry, up-and-comers at your company – you’re going over the financial wins of last year and trying to inspire an even better performance this year. So, rather than running through the numbers, you decided to talk about the leadership and training opportunities that have become available because the company made more money. Deliver the necessary information, but engineer the context to the individuals in the audience.
5. Use sensory descriptions
We’ve talked about engaging all five senses in an event before, but that’s tougher in a speech, right? How do you incorporate sensory stimuli beyond sight and sound when you’re giving a speech? Enter, descriptive detail!
Did you just flashback to your high school English class? Oof. Me too. But our teachers were right about using descriptive language to incorporate the five senses. Describing the taste, feel, or smell of something, you invite your audiences to actually recruit their senses to simulate a sensory experience. It’s like when I talk about stepping barefoot into the sand on the beach after sunset and feeling the cool, soft grains spreading out between your toes. Your brain engages those other senses and it’s like you can actually feel a thought.
When you incorporate more than one of the five senses into your speech, you invite the audience to share a sensory experience, and similar to the way emotion affects memory, we’re more likely to remember information when it’s attached to a sensory stimulus.
6. Vary your rhythm/pace
Think back to the dullest college lecture where the speaker drones on and one at the same. pace. and. volume. and. tone. and pretty soon your conscious mind has left the building. Now think back to the last great conversation you had with a close friend. If you’re like me, your pitch, volume, and pace changes based on what you’re saying. When I’m excited, I talk louder and faster, and then my friend starts to buy into my excitement, and pretty soon we’ve booked a BFF getaway that neither of us can afford… all because of my delivery.
Really though, no one wants to engage with a speaker who maintains the same monotone pace for an hour. An effective speaker has a conversation with the audience rather than reciting memorized information. There should be some back-and-forth. For example, the speaker might pause after asking a question or saying something thought-provoking. This brings us to the next tip below:
7. Get comfortable with silence
Look, I know pauses in the middle of speeches and presentations can be AWKWARD. For the speaker and the audience. But that uncomfortable moment of bloated silence is an opportunity for a poignant moment, and it’s crazy effective. A dramatic pause during a speech makes the audience think more critically about what you’re saying.
As social beings, we naturally want to fill the silence. When someone pauses mid-conversation, we fill the void with a verbal response – “yeah, I get that,” or “actually, I see it this way.”
When a speaker pauses during a speech, this same reaction to silence occurs and works to keep the audience in-tune and engaged. Since it’s not generally acceptable to yell out a verbal response during a presentation, the audience will fill the silence with their own mental dialogue. Pausing during a speech is like asking the audience to add their thoughts or even challenge your take. While that can be a little scarier than reading straight from your note cards, a great speech invites new ideas and contesting beliefs. The best speeches start a conversation.
8. Tell a personal story
Many of these tips are strategies to help you appear likable. It sounds cliche, but you’ve got very little time to get an audience on your side. You’ll want to take every opportunity to become the most relatable person in the room. This is especially important if you’re speaking from a place of power.
A great way to humanize yourself is by with a personal anecdote. For example, you might talk about a personal failure that taught you a meaningful lesson and humbled you on your journey to personal success. Everyone can relate to making mistakes, and starting with a story like this tells the audience that you understand their perspective and that you won’t pander.
9. Build a structure and stick to it
Your audience shouldn’t feel like they have to navigate your speech or try to figure out how you’ve gotten from point A to point B. The structure of your presentation should be simple and easy to follow:
Provide a roadmap early on. Explain what you’re going to say: “Today I’m going to try and convince you to_____,” and tell them how you’ll back it up: “we’ll look at some new research along the way.”
1 main message and 3 supporting points is a great starting block.
Trim the fat. Any tangents or anecdotes should be concise and directly related to the key message so the audience can follow the bridge you’re building from idea to idea.
10. Every paragraph, sentence, and word serves a purpose
It’s easy to get caught trying to fit everything we want to say into one speech. A great way to avoid this trap is to step back and humble yourself. The point of a speech is to communicate a message. Your job is to find the best way to clearly deliver that message to everyone in the room. Your speech really isn’t about you. It’s about the people listening and whether or not they receive your message. So when you read through your draft, hold each paragraph, sentence, and word to these two criteria:
Does this say something different than the other paragraphs, sentences, or words?
Does this element propel the speech toward my goal?
It’s hard to delete your work and cut down on your thoughts, but your audience will thank you when they don’t have to try and solve for your key message.
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