How to Give a Good Speech Even If You Hate Speaking
I hate giving speeches. Most people do. One study suggested that speaking in front of an audience was number two on the list of what people fear most – just behind death.
I hate giving speeches so my usual response, when invited to give one, is to say no thanks. “I’ll sit on a chair and answer questions,” I say, “but I don’t want to get up there and make an actual speech.”
Three or four times a year, I do make a speech. And my usual strategy to prepare for it is to do nothing. I put the speech on my schedule and then forget about it. I begin to think about what I’m going to say just a few hours before I’m going to give it. I find that this drastically reduces the amount of stress I feel in the days leading up to the speech. But, of course, my stress on the day of the speech is pretty intense.
Given that, you might be wondering why I’m about to give you advice on how to give a good speech. The answer is that even though I don’t like to give speeches, I have given dozens of them. And though I don’t like to prepare for them, I have, on occasion, forced myself to do it. And I can tell you this: Preparation works.
The first speech I prepared for was several years ago. It was a toast for Number Two Son’s wedding. I’d met the father-in-law the previous evening. He let me know that, as a father of the bride, he’d be speaking first. In typically demented fashion, I took that as a challenge.
“What are you doing?” K asked me that night.
“I’m working on my toast,” I told her.
“I’ve never seen you prepare a speech,” she said.
“I know,” I replied.
I gave a damn good toast that day – a better speech than I usually got (and still get) with my “do nothing” strategy. And since then, I have picked up a few shortcuts that have helped me turn would-be bad speeches into pretty good ones.
Here they are…
* “Pearls before swine.” Talk about what you really know. Don’t even try to speak about a subject you don’t truly understand. It’s a fool’s game. Make your speech about something – anything – that you know deeply from having lived it. If you do this, you won’t have to worry about seeming to be smart because you will be smart. If they don’t get it, you can tell yourself (as I do): “Pearls before swine!”
* Follow my Rule of One. The rule is simple: one idea, one story, one takeaway, and one benefit.
* The idea should be something you know to be true. Find a way to articulate it in a single, memorable sentence.
* Don’t begin with that sentence. Begin with a story. That story should illustrate your idea. It should begin with a goal and an obstacle to the goal and end with the overcoming of that obstacle.
* After you’ve told the story – and only afterward – tell them the takeaway: the one simple and memorable statement that expresses your one big idea.
* After you’ve done that, tell them one big way that they will benefit from embracing that idea.
* Don’t memorize your speech, but do memorize the first and the last sentences.
Try this the next time you have to make a speech – either a formal one in front of hundreds of people, a presentation to your colleagues, or a pitch to your family at dinner. The preparation will be a lot easier than you are probably thinking it will be. And the result – you’ll see – will be well worth it.