What to Look for in a Speech or Presentation

Christopher Witt —  March 6, 2013

Effective speeches and presentations change the way your audience thinks, feels, or acts. Everything else — your message and delivery — is a means to that end. If your speech or presentation brings about the change you sought, it’s a success.

The question is: how do you get people to change? What strategies or techniques do you use?

The Top 5 Things I Look for in a Speech or Presentation

1. A Distinctive Voice: By voice I mean the speaker’s style, the unique quality that projects the speaker’s attitude, personality, and character. Inexperienced or insecure speakers don’t want to stand out or call attention to themselves. So they end up sounding like everyone else. Which makes them boring and easy to dismiss. The speakers who capture and hold my attention invest themselves fully and without apology into what they say.

2. Surprise: Speeches that confirm what we already think or feel often win our approval. But that doesn’t make them good speeches. I prefer speeches that take a fresh approach or make me look at something in a completely different light. I like hearing something I’ve not thought of before.

3. Great Structure: Mediocre presentations overwhelm us with facts and figures and disjointed ideas. I don’t just want more information. I want a way of understanding the information that is being presented. And that understanding comes from the way the information and ideas are tied together. Noteworthy presentations are structured in a way that makes the sum of the parts add up to a comprehensible whole.

4. Rhetoric: The well spoken word has a beguiling beauty about it. The choice of words (their sounds as well as their meanings), the structuring of phrases and sentences, the use of stories and images, an attention to pacing and rhythm and repetition — they all set a compelling speech apart from the standard fare.

5. A Clear Audience: A good speech makes you feel that the speaker was talking directly and personally to you, that the insights and ideas presented apply to your situation and will help you solve a problem that bedevils you. And a great speech has that same effect on everyone (or at least most of the people) in the audience.

What do you look for in a speech or presentation?


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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.