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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Three Presentations PMs needProject managers — like most leaders — get things done by getting other people to do them.

A project manager’s responsibilities include overall management, but he or she is seldom directly involved with the activities that actually produce the end result. PMs oversee any associated products and services, project tools and techniques to help ensure good practices. In addition, they are responsible for recruiting and building project teams, and making projections about the project’s risks and uncertainties.

Project managers are strategists and communicators.

They give presentations at various times and for different reasons to customers and clients, to upper management, and to team members.

The Three Presentations Every Project Manager Needs

  1. Promote
    Program Managers make presentations to promote an idea, service, product, trend, development, or organization. They provide information and insight about that idea, etc.  in order to attract people’s attention, to gain their interest, and to build support. The goal of a promotional presentation is to motivate the listeners to take some action that will advance the PM’s goal.
  2. Propose
    Program Managers make presentations to seek the buy-in, support, or approval of relevant stakeholders for a particular project. PMs require authorization to act from their own leaders (internally) and/or from prospective clients. The goal of a proposal presentation (sometimes called an oral proposal) is simple: to get those in authority to say “yes” to what’s being proposed.
  3. Update
    Program Managers make presentations to communicate information about a project’s current status — its progress, problems, and opportunities — to relevant parties and to recommend next steps. The goal of a project update (also called a status report) is to keep people informed and to gain their input and approval for necessary changes.

What other presentations do you think Project Managers need?

“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.

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