This piece is based on a video that includes eight brief clips. Four of them show different speakers starting some pretty unimpressive speeches.
We then see each of them filmed again after receiving some simple professional presentation advice.
On the surface, you may wonder why we have pulled them into one stream. Two are preparing speeches for social occasions: a wedding and a funeral. The others are for professional purposes: an internal HR briefing/presentation and an advertising meeting.
There are all sorts of other superficial differences. Two are given standing up and two sitting down. Two are women, two are men. Two are holding notes in their hand, two are not. Two arrived relatively confident, two nervous and shy.
And yet, ultimately, writing and delivering a great speech isn’t rocket science. It always comes back to the two same challenges:
1) Can you make it relevant to your audience?
2) Is it clear what you are saying and why you are saying it?
The best man in these clips starts quietly, staring at his notes. So does the eulogy which comes across as a series of facts, lacking emotion. In both cases, the original script doesn’t make an emotional connection. And it’s exactly the same with the business speeches. The HR professional rushes through a list presented as a lexicon of HR jargon. She’s rushing because (as she admits) she’s embarrassed by how dull it all sounds.
The lesson is simple but often ignored. A speech is only worth delivering if it is built around the needs of the audience. What do they already know? What will inspire them? What will they find amusing? What do you want them to remember? These questions remain relevant whether you are opening a conference or standing to speak after a boozy dinner.
Relevance also means avoiding some of the typical public speaking sins. Like ‘listing’ facts and reams of thank yous. And over-using the word ‘I’. And acronyms.
In the ‘after’ clips, each of the speeches becomes instantly more relevant. The eulogy taps into an emotional link with the audience. The HR professional reminds her colleagues what they have to gain from her subject. A more relevant script makes them both more confident in their delivery. The improved eye contact, body language and pace are all made easy by the belief that their audience might now be interested in what they are going to say.
Even relevance is of limited benefit without clarity. Not just clarity of writing and delivery, but also of thinking. Clarity means prioritising your messages so that your audience understands what matters most. It means focusing less on what happens on more on why. It means brevity – ensuring your key points are not suffocated.
The advertising director creates clarity by reminding his client of the brief and contextualising what follows. The best man demonstrates balance – he is going to praise his friend before having a joke at his expense.
Meanwhile, the style shifts in all four cases to create clarity. Long sentences are replaced by shorter punchier soundbites. These enable all four speakers to pause for longer. The pausing allows time for eye contact and, where a appropriate, a smile or two. It also facilitates emphasis. We all push certain words harder when we are speaking naturally and then fall into monotone when nervous in front of a crowd. The best man starts his second clip enthusiastically: “Good AFTERnoon everyone!” It’s clear that we’re about to have some fun. Clarity of writing, creates clear delivery. Which increases the likelihood that your audience will actually listen.
This is not a definitive list to propel every speech to the moon. But it’s a start. The four speakers were trained for up to 90 minutes. Each could, by their own admission, improve their presentation much further. But the key conclusion to this piece is that the techniques that can rescue a best man from embarrassment are no different to those helping the HR director communicate her message to her team. A eulogy can be improved in similar ways to the advertising pitch. Great speeches don’t start with facts and figures. They start with an audience. Working backwards from that point is the key to almost everything. It creates relevance, allowing clarity to unlock the door to understanding.