The ending of a speech — its conclusion — is its most important element.

A speech’s conclusion is even more important than its opening, because it’s what people remember most.

Ending a speech is, also, challenging.

I struggled for years trying to come up with powerful ways to end my speeches. And I often failed. Usually I just sat down. It was as if I had said everything I wanted to say and I ran out of steam.

Don’t let that happen to you.

5 Most Common Mistakes When Ending a Speech

Mistake #1:Popping the Ending on Your Audience

You gotta warn the audience that you’re coming to a conclusion. Doing so regains their attention (which sometimes wanders, even during a great speech) and prepares them emotionally.

It’s not hard to do. A simple, “In conclusion” or “Finally” or “Let me wrap up by…” will usually do.

Warning: Once you signal your intention to conclude, you have to finish talking relatively quickly.

Mistake #2: Ending with Q&A

You can schedule Q&A toward the end of your talk. That’s often a natural place for it. But don’t use your Q&A as your conclusion. (The last question you answer is usually the weakest. And you don’t want to have your audience leaving on a weak note.)

Conclude after you’ve answered the final question. Take a little more time to drive your main points home and to issue a call to action.

“Thank you for your questions. I hope you can see how [or why]…”

Mistake #3: Introducing New Material

Never, never, never bring up a new idea or add new information in your conclusion. This is the time to summarize your main points and hit them home. Introducing new material at this point will only diffuse or dilute your message.

Mistake #4: Failing to Issue a Call to Action

The purpose of giving a speech is to move people to action. Sure, you give them new information, new ideas to consider. Sure, you entertain them (meaning, you engage their emotions and imaginations). But you do all that because, ultimately, you want to get them to do something.

So don’t be coy or vague. Don’t make people guess. Tell them what you want them to do. Your speech up to this point has told them what you want them to do and why they would want to do it. Now give the one more reason — an emotional reason — to act.

Mistake #5: Letting the Audience Down Emotionally

A compelling speech takes the audience through a range of emotions, both high and low. But you don’t want to end on a low note.

End on a high note, not a downer. Appeal to people’s hopes and dreams, their aspirations, their courage, love, or faith, their community spirit or patriotism. Send them out energized, not depressed.

For more ideas check out In Conclusion: When to End a Speech and How to End a Speech.

When you’re in the business of providing a service — whether you’re in government contracting, architecture, construction, consulting, coaching, financial advising, or professional speaking — you are, in essence, giving advice.

You don’t have the final say in how a process is implemented, a project is executed, or an organization is structured. You research, you analyze, and you propose…which is to say you offer advice.

So your task, when selling a service, is to show prospects that you have the best advice for them.

To sell a service you need to know — and to demonstrate — four things:

1. You know what you know.

You have deep, focused, narrow knowledge.

You know what you know, and you know what you don’t know. You know what you’re best at. You’re constantly learning and improving your skills.

You know your blind spots. You know your values and you won’t compromise them. You know the kind of clients you want and work best with.

You would never say, “I’m a professional speaker, I can speak about anything.” Or “As a coach I have a process that can help anyone in any situation.” Or “My proprietary consulting approach has universal applicability.”

2. You know your clients.

You know the people and the companies that can profit from what you do. You know when there’s a good fit.

You know their problems. You know what ails them, where their pain is, and how to relieve it.

You may not share their perspective (you wouldn’t be much help to them if you did), but you do share their concerns. You speak their language.

3. You know how clients benefit from working with you.

You know how to help them solve a problem or achieve a goal that matters to them.

Your advice can help them solve, fix, improve, grow, gain, or avoid something, and in the process make their lives better.

You can help them in immediate and specific ways, when they’re in crisis mode. And you can help them with big picture, futuristic planning.

4. You know how you are different from the competition.

You don’t have to prove that your advice is the best in the world, just that it is best for this particular person or company in this situation, at this time, given their constraints.

To do so, you have to know how you — and your advice — stacks up against the competition. How are you different? And how does that difference benefit your clients?

In 1933 Franklin Roosevelt, the newly elected President of the United States, faced a daunting situation. A fearful nation was four years into its worst-ever depression.

To win popular support for his proposed social and economic reforms, he gave a radio address to the nation in March of that year. He explained his ideas in a casual, but comprehensive way. He came across as warm and friendly.

His address became known as a fireside chat. It was so popular that his advisors recommended he repeat the format every week.

He refused. He reasoned that speaking so often would lessen his impact. He did not want people to grow tired of hearing from him.

Although Roosevelt is perhaps best known for his fireside chats, he gave only 30 of them in 11 years.

Lesson Learned:
To influence and inspire your audience – your employees, customers, constituents, the general public – invest yourself fully into your speeches, but give fewer of them to have a greater impact.

3 Common Public Speaking MistakesI’m offering three lessons I learned from mistakes I’ve made giving speeches in the hope that you don’t have to make them yourself.

Public Speaking Mistake #1: Trying to Be Something Other than Who I Am

When I first started out speaking, I tried to be like speakers I admired.

At that time I admired one particular speaker. He was charismatic and dramatic. He had a deep, rich voice. And he could move an audience from laughter to tears in no time at all.

The first time I gave a speech imitating his style, the audience was moved to laughter. Just not in the way I had hoped. They were laughing at me, because my performance was so, well, laughable.

My speech teacher got me back on track. He made it my goal to become the best speaker I could be, not to become someone else.

Lesson Learned: Learn from others, but don’t imitate them. Be yourself – your best self – when giving a speech. Bring all of who you are — your unique personality, interests, values, knowledge, life experience, humor – to your speaking.

Public Speaking Mistake #2: Thinking It’s All about ME

After one of my early speeches, my teacher asked me what I thought of it.

I was pretty pleased with myself and how I had done. I said something like, “My message was good. It was focused, clear, and persuasive. I remembered everything I wanted to say. I delivered it well. I didn’t use a lot of ums and ers.” And I went on.

When I finished, he said, “That’s a lot of I and me and my. What do you think the audience got out of it?”

I hadn’t even though of the audience at the time. I had only thought about what I wanted to accomplish, what I planned to say, how I hoped to come across.

Lesson Learned: Focus on your audience. A speech is about giving them information and insight they can use to their benefit. Be yourself (see above), but be yourself in service of others.

Public Speaking Mistake #3: Over-preparing Can Be as Disastrous as Under-preparing

I used to be so terrified of making a fool of myself in front on an audience that I over-prepared my speeches.

I spent hours and hours, sometimes days, doing research. I spent even more time cramming everything I learned into what was supposed to be a brief speech. Then I practiced it over and over again and memorized it word for word.

As a result, I presented too much information. And I came across as mechanical and aloof.

If you get up in front of an audience without being adequately prepared, you deserve to fail. Big time.

A speech requires research, thought, and planning. You have to understand your audience and their needs, the event itself, and your goals. You have to formulate a message. And you have to practice it.

But if you over-prepare, you risk coming across as packaged, self-contained, unreal.

Lesson Learned: Preparation is key, but don’t overdo it. Depending on your audience and on what’s at stake, prepare just enough – not too little, not too much – to be clear, persuasive, spontaneous, and real.

What have your mistakes taught you about giving a speech?

What could a late-night comic teach a beginning public speaking? As it turns out, quite a lot.

I had a hard time getting started as a public speaker.

I was terrified, stiff, and awkward. I made embarrassing verbal blunders, which made me more terrified, stiff, and awkward.

I would prepare and rehearse — over-prepare and over-rehearse — my speeches.

I would deliver them from memory. And I was happy if I got through the whole thing without some major mishap.

At the time I thought a speech was a transfer of content from me (the person who knows) to the audience (the passive recipients).

As long as I had good stuff to present and got it all said, I thought my speech was a success.

One of my speech teachers turned my thinking around.

He helped me realize that my saying that I thought needed to be said wasn’t as important as the audience hearing what they needed to know.

And he taught me that lesson in a strange way.

He asked me who my favorite comedian was. I said Johnny Carson. (Obviously, this was many, many years ago.)

He told me to watch Carson’s opening monologue on The Tonight Show for a week, and see what I learned.

What did Johnny Carson do that made him so funny?

Here’s what I learned: It wasn’t his material. His jokes were sometimes very funny, sometimes not.

What made him funny was his interplay with the audience.

He’d throw out a joke. If people laughed, he smiled. If they didn’t laugh, he’d look pained. If they groaned, that’s when he would come into his own.

Carson played with the audience. And together he and audience often created something much funnier than before.

Johnny Carson taught me the importance of interacting with the audience. He taught me

  1. To present an idea, one piece at a time.
  2. To watch how my audience reacted to what I said. Did they get it? Were they with me? Did they smile and nod, or cross their arms and crease their foreheads?
  3. To respond to their response. If they didn’t get or didn’t agree with what I said, I couldn’t simply plunge on with my prepared remarks. I had to acknowledge and engage them.
  4. To treat a monologue (i.e. a speech) always as a dialogue, and to keep it lively.

A speech isn’t the content you deliver to the audience. A speech is how the audience interacts with you and your ideas in order to come to their own understanding.

Learn from, but don't imitate another speaker.The worst piece of advice anyone can give you—about speaking, at least—begins with the phrase, “Here’s what I would do, if I were you…”

You can learn from watching and analyzing masterful speakers. But don’t imitate them.

Some of my favorite speakers—people I consider masters of the craft—are casual and conversational. Some are heady and professorial. Some have a dry wit. Some use no humor at all. Some have a flat, almost deadpan delivery. Some are animated, bordering on melodramatic.

The only thing they have in common is this: they are completely, distinctly, unapologetically themselves.

Bob Newhart, the comedian known for his deadpan delivery and for playing the “straight man” surrounded by bizarre cast members and even more bizarre events, told an interviewer about one of his most frustrating professional experiences. A guest director for the long-running Bob Newhart Show kept pressing him to speed up his delivery and show more emotion. Finally, in exasperation he said, “Look, I do Bob Newhart That’s what I do. And that’s all I do.”

Study speakers you admire. Analyze how they look and sound in front of an audience. Join Toastmasters. Take a public speaking course. Maybe even work with a coach. But never do anyone other than yourself.

Your task is to work out how to bring your best self to your speeches and presentations.

Conflict, high stakes, passion

Great speeches are born in conflict. They address matters of consequence, when the stakes are high. They are delivered with passion and they rouse passion in the audience.

The ingredients of a great speech are conflict, high stakes, passion.

Think about the great speeches throughout history.

All the great (American) speeches I can think of off the top of my head are born in or arise from some deeply rooted conflict.

Conflict = the clash of opposing ideas, visions, policies, ideologies, systems, or ways of life.

(Conflict does not require, mind you, violence or hatred or contempt.)

  • Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” opposed British rule.
  • Sojourner Truth’s “And Ain’t I a Woman” opposed male domination.
  • Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” opposed both slavery and the dissolution the country.
  • FDR’s “A Date which Will Live in Infamy” opposed the Japanese empire and its aggression.
  • Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” opposed racism.
  • Harvey Milk’s “My Name is Harvey Milk and I’m Here to Recruit you” opposed homophobia.

But conflict, by itself,  isn’t enough.

You can vehemently attack argyle socks, for example, but I’d be hard pressed to think of anyone who’d be interested or give your speech a second’s notice.

The central conflict of a speech has to be about something that matters. The stakes have to be high.

Political independence (Patrick Henry), women’s equality (Sojourner Truth), the abolition of slavery (Lincoln), waging war against an aggressor (FDR), racial equality (King), and social justice for gays and lesbians (Milk) — these are issues that matter. The forces arrayed against them (at the time) — the opposing powers — were menacing. Much was at stake.

Where there are conflict and high stakes, there is passion. In the speaker and in the audience.

There are, of course, great speeches from other countries. Wilberforce’s speeches opposing the slave trade. Zola’s courtroom speech. Churchill’s wartime speeches. And most recently, the Dutch Foreign Minister’s speech about the downing of Flight MH17. They all come to mind. And each in its own way reinforces my belief that great speeches are made up of conflict, high stakes, and passion.

What do you think? What speeches would you add to my very partial list?

Don't speak without a reasonPeople are giving too many speeches these days. Way too many. And it’s gotta stop.

Don’t get me wrong. I love speeches–good ones, anyway–and I believe that speeches are a great way to influence and inspire audiences. But people, especially leaders, are giving too many speeches and, by doing so, lessening their impact.

Here are 7 Reasons NOT to Give a Speech

1. You don’t have anything to say.

If you don’t have something intelligent, insightful, or helpful to say to a particular audience — or anything they haven’t heard before and already know — it would be better to say nothing at all.

2. It’s not the right time.

When do you address a pressing issue, a crisis, or a traumatic event? Do you speak when emotions are at a fever pitch, when wounds are fresh, or do you wait a while? And when it is too late? It takes wisdom to know when to speak and when to keep silent.

3. It’s not the right audience.

Don’t waste your time, consideration, and effort speaking to people who have no investment in you or your message, or who are clearly hostile and closed-minded. “Know your audience” is one of the most universally applicable pieces of advice when it comes to speaking. A corollary is, “Know which audiences aren’t your audience.”

4. It’s not the right event.

Most speakers underestimate the impact of the event in determining the success of their speeches. Before you agree to give a speech, find out 1) the schedule (when you’ll speak and what happens before, during, and after your speech, 2) the sponsoring organization, 3) the venue, 4) the room layout, and 5) physical factors (e.g. microphones, lighting, stage). I’ve been there, I know: some events are so poorly organized or present a different image from what you want to be associated with. If so, just say “no.”

5. You’re not the right person.

Just as some audiences aren’t right for you, you aren’t right for some audiences. Your unique values, interests, approach, personality, reputation, and style always come across in your speaking. (If they don’t, you’re doing something very, very wrong.) If you haven’t figured this out by now, I don’t know how to break it to you: not everyone will like you or trust you or be receptive to what you say. Vive la difference! Let someone else speak to them.

6. You don’t have the time.

Preparing a speech (a good one, anyway) requires time. Time to research your topic and your audience. Time to ponder. Time to craft your message and refine it. Time to rehearse it. If you don’t take the time, you’ll give a crappy speech or, at the very least, an utterly forgettable speech. Better not to give a speech at all than to give one that serves no purpose.

7. You don’t care.

If you aren’t passionate about the topic you’re asked to address, either find a way to turn the topic to something you do care about or decline to speak about it. How can you expect an audience to care about what you say when you don’t care?

Giving a speech is both an honor and an obligation, an opportunity to say and do something worthwhile. Use it wisely. You’ll have a greater impact if you speak less frequently and if speak only when you are the right person with the right message for the right audience at the right time.

Short speeches have advantages over long speechesA short speech isn’t necessarily a good speech, but a short speech has several advantages over a long speech.

First, a short speech is more likely to hold your audience’s attention.

Because today’s audiences have the attention span of a gnat, the longer you speak — even if you’re presenting brilliant, exciting ideas — the greater your odds of losing their interest.

Say what you have to say as concisely as possible and stop talking.

Second, a short speech forces you to say what you mean…and nothing more.

The only way to keep your speech short is to develop a razor-sharp focus: develop one, and only one, idea. If you can’t sum up the central idea of your speech in under 15 words, you haven’t defined it precisely enough.

  • Cut out opening pleasantries like “I’m happy to be here today” or “I don’t have a lot of time so I’ll get right down to it.”
  • Eliminate anything — an idea, example, phrase, or word — that isn’t essential.
  • If you’re using PowerPoint, get rid of the cover slide and any slide that lacks a visual element (a chart, graph, picture, illustration).
  • Stop pussy-footing around. Don’t hem and haw. Don’t add conditional phrases and disclaimers. Take a stand. Show your colors. Boldly assert what you believe.

How long should a speech be? Just long enough to accomplish your goal and not so long that you lose your audience’s interest and goodwill.

I used to advise, “Never give a speech longer than 20 minutes.” Now I think 10 to 12 minutes is long enough. Five to six minutes might even be better.

Evaluate a speechTo become a better public speaker, become a more discerning, informed, and insightful listener.

After listening to a speech, don’t simply say you liked it or you didn’t like it. Become more critical, not in a negative way but in an inquisitive way.

Ask yourself what the speaker did or did not do that caused you to feel the way you did.

10 Questions to Ask to Evaluate (and to Learn from) a Speech

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