As Jerry Seinfeld once joked, fear of public speaking is rated more highly than fear of death…so much so that at a funeral, you’d be better off in the coffin than doing the eulogy.
If you’ve got a speech coming up…relax, talking to a group of people really doesn’t have to be that bad! You talk to people on most days and you give them information, even if it’s just about last night’s telly. All you’re doing now is speaking to a few more people than usual, and it’s really easy to make a great job of it. All you have to do is plan - take your focus away from any fear and place it firmly onto your audience and your subject.
So before we move on, take a moment to think about a really great speech.
Whether you’re recalling an unforgettable wedding speech, a compelling business presentation or Winston Churchill’s famous wartime “we will fight them on the beaches”, the chances are that the elements that made your memorable speech great were exactly the same. Namely, that the person speaking had considered the who, what and why.
If you get these basics covered, people will remember your speech, too…for all the right reasons. So...
...who are you talking to?
Great speeches are directly tailored to their audience – so who are they? In Churchill’s case, it was the beleaguered British public. At a wedding, it’s an assorted mix of friends and family (arguably a lot harder to please!) – while at a conference it’s a group of business people. Yes, it really is as simple as that.
...what must they hear?
Start by writing down one sentence that sums up what you’re actually talking about. It really is amazing how many people get so nervous about speaking in the first place that they forget this.
If you’re speaking at a wedding, this will be obvious – if you’re the father of the bride, the audience will want to hear all about the bride, while if you’re the best man people will probably be expecting a few stories about the groom! Using our Churchill example again, the public badly needed to hear something inspiring from their leader when there was no guarantee of a happy ending.
Now build on that sentence – what words best describe your subject? What’s the main thing, or things, people need to know or understand about it? How would you like them to feel when you’ve finished speaking?
(In most cases you’ll be able to have notes in front of you. Jot a few of those words down to spark your memory if you’re worried about your mind going blank on the day, I know from experience that it's far better than printing out the entire thing, then panicking because you've suddenly lost your place!)
...why are they hearing it?
Consider why your audience is gathering to listen to your speech, to guide the tone you can take in making it (for example, a funeral speech will be vastly different in tone from a business presentation!) It’s tempting to add a joke or two, but only try to be funny if you’re funny… otherwise you might end up recalling Margaret Thatcher’s cringe-inducing (and insincere) ‘Monty Python’ moment.
If you can’t be funny or you don’t want to be, then a wonderful alternative is to be sincere and heartfelt – something everyone can be incredibly good at if they’re talking about something they love or are interested in (if you’re not all that interested in your main subject, try to find an aspect about it – no matter how small – that you genuinely find inspiring). After all, no-one could really say Churchill was all that funny.
(Oh - and don't forget to do a practise run - preferably with a trusted friend as your audience who can also make sure you keep to time!)
If after all that planning you’re really struggling…well, why not contact me and let’s come up with something truly inspiring for your audience.
I'm a friendly and professional writer, reviewer and editor who works with warmth, humour and flexibility.
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