“Every word [in a speech] that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.” — Cicero

The best way to maintain your audience’s attention and to drive home your main point is to keep your speech brief and focused.

Brief, as in the shorter the better.

Focused, as in concerned with one, and only one idea.

Eliminate unnecessary words, phrases, stories, facts, opinions.

What is unnecessary? Anything that does not help you attain your goal. Anything that does not

  • Clarify and substantiate your central idea
  • Establish your credibility and likability
  • Motivate your audience through their emotions and imaginations to take action
  • Make your speech more entertaining, engaging, memorable

It hurts, I know, to make cuts in anything you’re worked hard to create. But do it anyway.

Be ruthless about eliminating all this is inessential in your speech. Your audience will thank you for it.

Photo Voice, which seeks “to create participatory photography programs that achieve meaningful improvements in the lives of participants,” defines public advocacy as:

Seeking to affect a change in public opinion or attitude and through doing so to prompt a change in behavior that will bring benefits for a community or group. Public advocacy can also increase pressure on decision-makers to take action or make policy change.

Over the years I’ve worked with any number of organizations involved in public advocacy, helping them create and implement a communications strategy and a message to further their causes.

I enjoy working with public advocacy groups. I’m often humbled by their dedication.

Because leaders speak — or should speak — primarily to influence audiences and to inspire them to take action, leaders can learn a lot from public advocates.

Three Public Speaking Lessons for Leaders from Public Advocates:

1. Speak about what matters to you.

Social advocates and real leaders speak about issues that they themselves deeply believe and care about.

Conviction and caring are the foundation of any compelling speech.

How can you convince others to care unless you first care…and care deeply. You don’t have to cry or shout or beat your chest, but you do need to let your passion show.

2. Tell stories.

Stories engage an audience’s imaginations and emotions. They make a cause personal and real and specific. They have the power to change people’s mindsets and, more importantly, to move them to action.

Find a story that illustrates the problem you’re addressing and the cause you’re advocating. Refine that story. And tell it again and again and again.

3. Take a stand.

As an advocate — whether you’re speaking for a cause or for a business — it’s not your role to be impartial. Yes, you have to be fair and factual and honest. But your job is stake out a position and to defend and promote it in every way you can.

Don’t be timid or shy. Leave no doubt in your audience’s minds what you want of them and why.

Real leaders, like public advocates, address issues that matter both to themselves and to a wider world. They seek to benefit that wider world. And they throw themselves heart and mind and soul into that effort.

Try it and see how it works for you.

Bad Advice about SpeakingThere are a lot of myths, misconceptions, and flat-out bad advice about public speaking.

Here’s my list of the Top Nine Myths and Bad Advice about Public Speaking

  1. It’s not what you say that matters, but how you say it.
    Delivery is important. An articulate, powerful, and charismatic delivery can make a mundane message seem more important than it is. And a really bad delivery can kill the best message. But it is the message that counts. It’s what will change people’s thoughts and behavior. It’s what they’ll remember.
  2. To develop confidence, look over the heads of your audience or imagine them in their underwear.
    There are better ways to develop confidence when giving a speech. (Check out “The Three Best Ways to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking.”) Looking people in the eye helps make a connection with them and gains their trust, which in turn will make you more confident. Imagining people in their underwear is disrespectful, and you never want to disrespect your audience.
  3. Start your speech with a joke.
    Never start your speech with a joke…unless you’re a professional comedian and the audience is already warmed up. Your odds of bombing are astronomical. (Check out Should You Tell Jokes or Use Humor in a Speech?) Humor — which is different from telling jokes — is almost always appropriate.
  4. End your presentation with Q&A.
    You can save Q&A to the end of your speech. But after you’ve answered the last question, don’t simply thank the audience and sit down. Take another half-minute or minute to end your speech: recap your main point and give your audience reason to act on it.
  5. Use PowerPoint because most people are visual learners.
    Making people read words is something entirely different from showing them images. As a matter of fact, people can’t read and listen at the same time. You have two alternatives. Use visuals (not words) on your slides: pictures, graphs, charts, and the like. Or tell stories and uses the type of words that engage people’s imaginations, where they create their own visual images.
  6. Some people are natural born speakers, some aren’t.
    Giving a speech is a skill, like learning how to read or ride a bike. Some people seem to have more of an aptitude than others (for speaking, reading, or riding a bike). But with guidance and practice most (not all, but most) people can learn how to give a good speech.
  7. There’s never any need to write out a speech.
    Writing out your speech or, at least, writing out parts of your speech can make it more powerful, compelling, and memorable. It will force you to clarify your thoughts and to hone your message. (Check out Should You Write Out a Speech?)
  8. Rehearsing a speech is a waste of time.
    Never give a speech or presentation without first rehearsing it. At least once, stand up and talk through your speech out loud. Do not think that thinking it through in your mind is enough. You have to get your mouth around your message before you stand in front of an audience. (Check out How to Rehearse a Speech.)
  9. Watching a videotape of yourself speaking is the best way to improve.
    Most speech coaches swear by videotaping their clients. I find that, at best, it makes people aware of their bad habits and allows them to improve them…temporarily. At worst, it makes people even more self-conscious and hyper-critical. I recommend practicing in front of a supportive audience. (Consider joining a Toastmasters club.) You can also work with a speech coach who will help you create a message you believe in and the confidence to deliver it.

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To give better speeches, become a more thoughtful personIf you speak often and if you want your speeches to have an impact consistently, there two things you can do.

The first thing you can do to give more compelling speeches consistently is to become a more compelling person.

A speech is, after all, an expression- – an extension — of who you are.

  • A speech boils down – concentrates — the essence of your character, values, outlook.
  • A speech builds on (and, hopefully, improves) the way you typically express yourself, the wording and phrasing you use every day.
  • A speech reveals your true self, what matters to you, whether you intend to or not.

So the first and best way to give a compelling speech — not just once, but again and again — is to become the type of person who compels people’s’ interest. Become the type of person worth listening to: better informed, more thoughtful, kinder and wiser.

The second thing you can do to give more compelling speeches consistently is to develop and follow a process.

A speech is, in another sense, a project.

So treat your speech preparation the way you’d approach any other project: follow a process. Continue Reading…

Writing a speech
Should you write out a speech or shouldn’t you?

You should only write out a speech if you have something important to say and you want people to take it and you seriously.

If, on the other hand, you don’t have much to say,
if you don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other,
if you don’t have time to gather supporting evidence and to link it together in a clear and logical way,
if you have more important concerns to attend to (e.g. going to one more meeting or catching up on your email),
if you’re an accomplished speaker and you think you can wing it or speak from a list of talking points someone else developed,
if you’re so important that you don’t care what people think about what you say,
if you don’t have or won’t make the time that’s required to write out a speech (or to meet with a speechwriter),
then by all means don’t write out your speech.

Can you get by if you simply outline your speech and speak extemporaneously? Possibly, but only if you’re articulate, experienced, and uber-confident in front of an audience. And is that what you want to do, “get by”?

To create a speech that stirs people’s hearts and minds, lingers in their memories, and rouses them to action, you have to write it out.

We often say, “We know what we like.” But it’s more accurate to say, “We like what we know.”

Consider art.

We like what we're familiar with.In his lifetime Vincent Van Gogh was largely unknown and his paintings were unpopular. He sold one painting (Red Vineyard at Arles) in his lifetime. One. That’s it.

Today he’s considered “one of the most famous artists of all time.”

In 1990 his Portrait of Dr. Gachet (at left) sold for $82,500,000. It was the highest price paid for art at a public auction at the time. Taking inflation into account, that record still holds.

What happened? Did his work magically improve over time? Of course, not.

What happened is more mundane. One hundred years ago Van Gogh’s style of painting was new and unlike anything people had seen before. Since then, we’ve been exposed to his art countless times. And we’ve been told by experts and by just about everyone else how extraordinarily beautiful they are. And we think of them as beautiful.

The same is true for music. We tend to like the music we already know — that’s why golden oldies are so popular — and to like music that is similar to the music we already know.

And the same is true for ideas.

Psychologists and researchers confirm that we tend to give credence to information, ideas, and opinions that confirm our current thinking. It’s called confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true.

What’s that mean for us?

When we present a new idea — and that’s the point of making a speech or presentation, isn’t it — we have to show audiences how it aligns with what they already know, with beliefs they already hold, with their current biases.

And we have to realize that people’s need to be exposed to new ideas — especially radically new ideas — incrementally and over time.

Clarity is the hallmark of an effective speech.

If you confuse your audience, they won’t be impressed by how smart you are. They won’t do what you ask of them. They may even resent you.

So clarity is good, confusion bad.

One way to be clear is to be simple.

  • Cut down the scope of the issue or idea you’re addressing.
  • Reduce the number of elements (preferably to three) that you explain.
  • Eliminate ambiguity and subtleties.
  • Avoid technical terms, idioms, or words of any sort that are not in the popular parlance
  • Dumb things down.

But sometimes you can’t or don’t want to be simple.

Sometimes a complex, sophisticated, intellectually challenging speech is just what’s called for.

Sometimes the issue you’re examining is itself complex, and reducing it to a few straightforward precepts would do it an injustice.

Sometimes the audience is highly knowledgeable. They may be experts in the field. And they enjoy grappling with concepts that others would find too difficult to understand.

At all times and at all costs, be clear. Make your speech simple whenever possible. But don’t shy away, when necessary or helpful, from making a presentation that is difficult and that demands an audience’s attention and effort.

We often talk about motivation and inspiration as if they’re they same thing. But they’re not.

What Is Motivation?

Motivation is about moving people to take action if not immediately, then within the very near future.

It heightens people’s emotions — especially their hope, desire, enthusiasm — urging them to act in a way that accomplishes a specific goal.

And it holds out the offer of a reward, a reason or a motivation for people to act.

Before a big game or during halftime, coaches motivate their teams to go out and do their best. What’s the goal? Win the game. What’s the reward? The pride of victory and of being a champion.

There’s a wonderful example of a military leader motivating his troops before battle from the movie Patton.

The speech as it’s delivered by George C. Scott is almost word for word the same speech that General Patton used to give the day before sending his troops to fight.

What does he want from his troops? To attack, never to stop, never to retreat, and most of all to kill the enemy. What reward does he offer? It’s better to kill them than to be killed by them.

So motivation involves moving people to take immediate action to accomplish a short-term goal. It does so by appealing to their emotions and by offering them some sort of reward or recompense.

By necessity, you have to keep motivating people over and over again. It doesn’t last, but as Zig Ziglar was fond of pointing out, neither does bathing, and that doesn’t stop you from bathing.

What is Inspiration?

Continue Reading…

Rhetoric is the skillful use of language in speaking or writing in order to influence how people think, feel, and act.

Rhetoric is neither good nor bad in itself. Its legitimacy is determined by how it is used (honestly or deceptively) and for what end it is used (for good or for ill).

The deceptive use of rhetoric is nothing new, certainly not in politics, nor is it limited to any particular faction.

Karl Rove’s comments “questioning” Hillary Clinton’s mental health are the most recent example. (For an account of his tactics, check out the Atlantic piece, “Why Karl Rove Uses Dirty Tricks: They Work.”)

I would like to take a page from Rove’s playbook as a lesson.

A Common Technique of the Rhetoric of Deception

Make a malicious statement so that the idea, image, or phrase you used becomes part of the public discourse.

Continue Reading…

Leaders don't have to speak poorly.A speech is—potentially—one of a leader’s most powerful tools. It can promote an initiative, a proposal, a vision. Gain the public’s attention, respect, and cooperation. Change the way people think, feel, and act.

In reality most speeches by leaders suck. They are a waste of time, an imposition on an audience’s goodwill, a public display of ineptitude.

We suffer through a leader’s speech, pretending to pay attention, because, well, we have to. They’re the boss. Or the resident guru. Or the thought leader du jour.

They may project an “executive presence,” and tick off a number of talking points. But if they have anything original, or insightful, or incisive to say, they bury it beneath a flurry of jargon, generalities, and non sequiturs.

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what they’re even talking about. Do they have a point? If so, who cares?

But some leaders get it right. Their speeches win our hearts and minds, linger in our memories, and stir us to action. The clarity of their vision thrills us. Their insight makes us wiser. Their examples, stories, and bigheartedness inspire us.

Why do other leaders—the majority—get it so wrong?

For two very good reasons: they don’t know how to construct a speech and, even if they did, they don’t have the time. And for one not-so-good reason: they’ve bought into the prevailing myth that delivery trumps content, that how you present yourself has more impact that what you say.

Neither charisma not platform pyrotechnics can substitute for a lack of substance. It’s your message—one big idea, clearly developed, supported by evidence and logic, brought to life in story and metaphor—that matters.

There is an alternative, a process that busy people can use to create speeches that bring about a change:

  1. Identify your core messages.
    Leaders keep returning to three basic messages: identity (who we are, how and why we were founded, our heroes and our values), mission (what we do and why we do it, what makes us different, our services and products), and vision (the challenges and opportunities ahead, where we’re going and how we’re getting there).
  2. Create four building blocks.
    For each of your core messages identity one big idea, a personal story, evidence, and a call to action as freestanding elements that you can combine in any number of ways.
  3. Construct your speeches using those blocks.
    Repeat, recycle, and repurpose those building blocks into a variety of speeches. (No it’s not cheating. It’s the best use of your time and energy.)

There’s really no excuse at all for giving a speech that sucks. Better not to speak at all. Creating a powerful speech—which isn’t the same thing as presenting a lame speech powerfully—is doable.

 

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