Archives For speeches

Leaders Speak too OftenA speech is one of the most powerful ways for leaders to advance their organization’s success.

Leaders give a lot of speeches, presentations, informal talks, and interviews. Sometimes they speak too often and, as a result, dilute their message.

The speeches that leaders give should align with their three primary responsibilities:

1)      To Advance the Mission, Vision, and Values of their Organization

Leaders help their organization formulate, promote, and achieve their mission (what we do/hope to accomplish), vision (where we are headed), and values (the principles and ethical standards that inform what we do).

2)      To Promote the Vitality of their Organization

Leaders tend to the internal workings of their organization to promote its ongoing health. They know that focusing exclusively on getting the work done can, ultimately, lead to the organizations’ dissolution.

3)      To Contribute to the Welfare of the Community/World at Large

Organizations thrive in the long run not only by doing well (achieving their goals), but also by doing good (benefiting their members, their customers/clients, and society/the environment).

Here’s the question leaders should ask when given the opportunity to speak:

Will this speech to this audience, at this time, in this venue promote my organization’s mission/vision/values, its vitality, and/or the community/world we live in?

Effective leaders know when to give a speech and, just as importantly, when not to give one.  

Bring about changeWhen speaking to promote change, resist the urge to attack the status quo or its supporters.

The only reason to give a speech is to promote change of some sort: a change in how people think or feel or, more importantly, act.

If you’re happy with the status quo and you want people to keep on doing what they’ve been doing, don’t give a speech. Throw a party.

The underlying message of a speech promoting change always comes down to this: the new vision, initiative, product, service, behavior you’re proposing is better that what already exists.

How do you talk down the status quo without belittling those who had a part in bringing it about or who have a stake in maintaining it?

(When the status quo is clearly unjust, cruel, or oppressive, it may be honorable and brave to confront head on those who created and seek to perpetuate it.)

But in most cases assailing the supporters of the status turns them into opponents and hardens their resistance.

Do this instead. Demonstrate how the current problems or deficiencies–the status quo you wish to change–are rooted not in past mistakes but in subsequent changes.

Don’t say, “We’re having problems in the finance department because my predecessor [the current CFO] purchased an inferior accounting software program.”

Say something like, “When we purchased our current accounting software, it was highly rated. But in the intervening years, technological advances and our increasingly complex requirements have made it inadequate for our needs.”

Make it your goal to bring about the change you believe in, not to denigrate the status quo or vilify its supporters.

Don't Give Dumb PresentationsI work with smart people. With people who run businesses or lead universities. With engineers and with senior researchers who have doctorates in subjects I’ve never heard of. With authors and small business owners.

And I frequently (several times a month) observe other smart people giving presentations.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that smart people give dumb presentations…frequently.

I define a dumb presentation as one that is disjointed and confusing. It lacks a central theme. It leaves people wondering, “What was that about?” or “What am I supposed to do now?”

A dumb presentation is a wasted opportunity both for the audience and for the speaker.

Why do otherwise smart people give dumb presentations?

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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.

 

quotation mark

There are many reasons to use quotations in a speech.

Quotations can add credibility to what you’re saying. They’re memorable. They give variety and, sometimes, a touch of rhetorical panache to your speech.

But as with any rhetorical device, you have to use quotations carefully or, at least, thoughtfully.

 

Here are my rules (principles, really) for using quotations in a speech.

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