Speak Up: A Guide to Giving the Best Possible Talk

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This post is authored by Kira Byczek

With our event submissions winding down (they close August 2nd!), it’s time to start looking forward to So, you want to give the speech of a lifetime? In order to write a speech that goes down in history, you must first have something important to say, and you must say it in a way that has yet to be heard. While I can’t provide you with what it is to say, I can offer some tips and advice. By familiarizing yourself with these guidelines, you’ll be prepared to rock the stage at your next show.

Give Yourself a Time Limit.

In most cases, brevity is better. TED talk, a global set of conferences is notorious for their strict 18-minute time frame. This amount of time is ideal, as an hour is typically the limit an audience can listen comfortably. When giving a long speech, you risk boring the audience and losing them to their own thoughts. Keep in mind, as Roman & Raphaelson say, “No speech was ever too short.” Take a look at this short Pop Tech talk for reference.

Keep It Simple.

As first spoken by Steve Jobs, “Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.” Be sure your speech has a clear beginning, middle and end, each easily identifiable to your audience. It’s best to center your presentation on one main idea or message. While you may tell several stories or express a few ideas throughout your talk, it is important to pick the strongest idea and maintain it as a central theme. Check out Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address for how to tell multiple stories while still maintaining one key message.

Tell, Don’t Sell.

Your audience didn’t show up to your presentation to listen to an infomercial or sales pitch, they came to hear an interesting story. Hook your audience, and do it right away. As stated by actor, singer, songwriter, and Academy Award-winning movie producer, George Jessel, “If you haven’t struck oil in your first three minutes, STOP BORING!” Skip the thank yous dive into what you really want to say. If you give a talk that includes valuable insight or an amazing message, audience members are more likely to seek out your product than if you threw it in their faces. For an example of how to get your audience’s attention from the start, watch this TED talk, given by game designer Jane McGonigal.

Practice Makes Perfect.

Unless you have a photographic memory, you’re going to need to practice quite a bit for your speech. After all, practice makes perfect. Some advice: start sooner rather than later. As author Mark Twain said, “It takes three weeks to prepare a good ad-lib speech.” Practice to your friends, recite the speech to yourself an hour before you are due to give it, and, if possible, practice your speech in the venue you’ll be speaking. Keep in mind, you don’t want your speech to sound monotonous or boring. The best speeches are the ones that sound spontaneous, even if they are memorized. Another bit of advice: know your speech point by point, not word for word. This way, your speech will appear more natural and. The author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” Elizabeth Gilbert, certainly has this mastered in her TED talk. Watch it here.

Keep Confident.

While there is still no cure for the butterflies most of us receive before going in front of an audience, there are ways to combat that feeling. Before speaking, allow yourself three seconds of silence. This allows for the transfer of nervous energy into positive energy and enthusiasm. Once you’ve started speaking, remember all of those things you’ve been told about public speaking before. Speak loudly and slowly. Use hand motions and gestures. Breathe. Walk around the stage. Maintain good posture. Don’t shuffle or appear tense. And as Lee Iacocca says, “Be yourself, stay natural, and dammit, smile once in a while!”

We’re All Friends Here.

Believe it or not, but the audience actually wants you to succeed. They came to be informed, inspired and entertained. One way to make yourself more comfortable is mingling with audience members before getting on stage. It’s much easier to speak to a group of friends than to strangers. Take it from public speaking coach Nick Morgan, “Successful public speaking is all about passion and emotion. If you’re excited, then your audience will be, too.” To watch a perfect example of passionate public speaking, watch this enthusiastic TED talk given by astronomer Clifford Stoll.

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