Presentations: Do Your Speeches Connect With Your Audience?: Speaking
You certainly have found yourself in each of these situations.
Situation #1 – You are the speaker. Someone asks you to give a speech to a small gathering, perhaps a civic club. To entice you to take the assignment, you are told, “It’s easy. Just take about 15 or 20 minutes to tell us about your company or organization. Explain what it does, how it does it, and answer any questions. Nothing to it.”
Persuaded that it is indeed a simple matter, you accept, thoughtfully write a speech about the inner workings of your business, deliver it carefully, respond to a few questions, receive polite applause, and depart thankful that you didn’t embarrass yourself.
Situation #2 – You are the listener. You attend a breakfast or luncheon where you hear a speaker whom you’ve never met, tell of an organization you know nothing about, while sharing information that means little if anything to you. The discourse drones on for 15 to 20 minutes with details about strangers, unfamiliar issues, and internal events that are important to the speaker, but not to you. Because this information has no apparent impact on your world, you tune out, your eyes glaze over, you glance at your watch, shift in your seat, reflect on the rest of your day, politely clap, and leave.
Been there, done that? Of course you have.
Those are the two sides of “boring speech syndrome.”
Boring Speech Syndrome
All speeches are well intentioned and seriously delivered, and most are carefully prepared. Yet many remain agonizingly dull. Why? Why does boring speech syndrome victimize intelligent speakers and audiences with such regularity? Is there a fundamental error? I believe there is, one even more significant than another pitfall I have mentioned in a previous article.
In that article I said that speeches often fail because speakers do not insert their personalities into their presentations. If you want to energize an audience, include personal heartfelt observations and stories related to key points of the content and deliver them with genuine passion. That still holds, but there is a potentially fatal flaw in my own advice to you.
You can deliver a speech with personal heartfelt observations and stories related to key points of the content, deliver them with genuine passion, and still find that the presentation does not seem to connect to the audience.
What is the problem? You have created and presented a speech that is about you more than it is about your audience.
The Syndrome Solution – put yourself in the audience
At bottom, speeches bore because the speakers, and those who invite them, fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of the speech. They believe the speech is about the speaker.
An effective speech is about the audience.
Before we look at ways to center your presentation on those who will hear you, first try this test on one of your old speeches. It comes from professional speaker Joel Weldon.
Joel suggests that you read through your presentation and count the number of times you use the word “I”, and count the times you use the word “you.” I would also suggest you count the times you say “me, we, or us.”
If the “I’s, me’s, we’s, and us’s” exceed the “you’s” then you can bet your presentation is oriented around yourself, your interests, your company, your organization, and not the audience.
Here are eight tips for putting the audience in the center of your speech.
- Ask yourself, “Who cares?” Would your subject interest anyone outside of your company, organization, or personal circle of friends? If not, then go to the next step.
- Make them care! Find ways to show how your information impacts the lives of your listeners. For example, before telling a story of something that happened to you, ask your audience if they have ever been in a similar situation. Ask if they have ever had the feelings and thoughts you had when you went through your experience. Now, instead of being passive, they must actively ponder what you are saying. To repeat, a good presentation is not about what you know, it is about how it relates to those listening to you.
- Put in the “you’s”. This is an easy way to shift your focus. Simply find as many ways to say “you” in your presentation. It will force you to talk to the audience and include them in your thoughts.
- Ask the audience to reflect on what you are saying. Ask questions that compel them to think about your topic rather than simply listen to it.
- Involve the audience in the presentation. Go a step further and ask them to answer your questions out loud. Interact. (Remember to have a backup plan in case nobody responds to you. For example you can fill the void by saying, “Other people have told me previously that they think this is the most important aspect, etc., etc.” That way you and your audience are not embarrassed by the silence.)
- Convert the abstract to the real. Put your message in human terms and language. Show how your topic effects people like those in your audience. Use everyday words and avoid jargon. Talk about issues and ideas and principles through real world situations.
- Make a point, tell a story, make a point, tell a story, etc. Speaker Bill Gove says each main point in a good speech has an accompanying story that illustrates it. Someone else once said a good story is like a bright red balloon to which you attach a key idea to make it memorable.
- If all else fails, make it entertaining. Since the audience will tend to remember you long after they have forgotten your subject, if you have a knack for humor and a weak topic go for the laugh if it is appropriate to the setting.
Please just don’t put us to sleep.