Believe it or not, there is something almost more disastrous than receiving a negative reaction to a speech: apathy.
Think about it. You can work with a negative reaction. Through persistent rehearsal, rewriting and rerouted research, feedback can move you to be better once you know where and how you lost your audience’s interest. Plus, you at least know your thoughts made them think and reinforce their own views.
Ultimately, however, the goal of any talk is to make a persuasive argument and move a crowd to action. Dead silence and apathy are signs your speech made no actual impact at all. Nothing really sank in and no one was even interested enough to openly challenge your assertions, even if negatively. Fortunately, there are indeed a few tried-and-true methods of leaving an indelible impression that leaves your attendees wanting to hear more from you than what you’ve already offered.
Invest Personally In Your Audience
You can demand your audience’s trust all you want. Just keep in mind, the confidence they place in you will never measure up to the risks they will readily take at your urging if you earn their faith through thinking, actions and decision-making that demonstrate sincere passion for their best interests. People will take a far greater interest in what you know when you approach them on a personal, genuinely caring level. Turn your talk into a flowing dialogue that touches on your audience’s thoughts with careful consideration for the needs that drew them to you in the first place.
Leave Your Ego At The Door
You may be the one commanding the stage, but there’s no stressing this enough: treat your talk as a meaningful, compassionate conversation inspired by listening intently to your audience throughout your preparation. The world’s greatest communicators distinguish themselves with an awe-inspiring degree of transparent authenticity and candor. Even the most artfully constructed artificial persona can only imitate true empathy so convincingly before the breakable ego beneath becomes impossible not to see. Don’t settle for reveling in vomiting your message ad nauseum. Be better by listening when not onstage at least twice as much as you speak.
With An Open Mind, Read Between The Lines
The greatest among the world’s great leaders have never shied from seeking out dissent and opposition – not to quash it, but to understand it. They have never underestimated the follow of understanding their opponents through not only their words and deeds but what their adversaries do not say or do. Through candid and curious dialogue with those who would challenge your convictions, you may broadly develop yourself just as significantly as you open your adversaries to being swayed by your willingness to learn and stretch your comprehension. Fine-tune your presentation by listening as ardently and intently as you write.
Want To Win Them Over? Lighten Up
Yes, you must always cater to the group you address by adorning your speech with their appropriate acronyms, terminology and jargon. By all means, demonstrate an earnest investment in your audience’s background, interests, and shared challenges. At the same time, and as much as your talk should be an overall repeatable and straightforward address that states your ideas with crystal clarity, remaining relatable through humor and emotionally evocative personal stories will persuade your audience to invest in your beliefs. Just make sure that even the lighter shades of your presentation always reinforce your talk’s linchpin platform. A brief light-hearted diversion is a colorful way to divert from excess dry data but always return to your focal principles.
Keep It Slow And Short
Barring an opportunity to deliver an event’s keynote address, maintain a hard 20-minute cut off for your talk. Afford the point you want to make only as much time as it absolutely needs to resonate long after your audience departs into the winds, even if organizers offer you an hour or more of stage time. Just the same, you won’t earn points from attendees for setting a speed record with your pace. As prudent as it is to get straight to the point as efficiently as possible and as refreshing as your audience may find it if you happen to finish early, speaking too rapidly may garble what want to get across. Grind your tempo down to something slightly slower than your ordinary speaking cadence. You will make a much deeper emotional imprint by allowing yourself (and your audience) a breath between sentences and peppering in pregnant pauses that let listeners fully digest your last point.
Structure Your Talk To Leave Them Wanting More
As you constantly rewrite your talk and practice it with a timer and camera in front of both a mirror and a few patient volunteer peers, orchestrate every word with intent. Specifically, the sum of your presentation, from visual aids that buttress your key points to compelling anecdotes and especially the fascinating “Eureka!” moment that crystallized the revelation you couldn’t bear not sharing with the world, should leave your audience hanging on for more.
If you have a 30-minute slot, sharpen your talk down to 20 orderly minutes. Set everything up with a formidable “grabber” that starts your audience out in the palm of your hand, preferably some profound expert quote, jarring statistic or fascinating personal story that asserts your deeper connection to the subject at hand. Bring everything back to your core motivation throughout the middle body of your speech. Finally, craft a thought-provoking conclusion with a call to action that echoes long after your talk ends. There’s nothing wrong with briefly telling your audience how exactly you plan to guide them to your destination from the beginning. From there, afford each section a roughly equal amount of time and mark each milestone with some kind of verbal cue that reminds everyone just where you are on this journey.
Ultimately, keeping your speech shorter than the time you realistically have to play with not only makes for a more focused, driven delivery but builds in a buffer for occasions a schedule breaks down, an event runs long, or your pacing simply falters when presenting “for real.” In the end, you will have begun a conversation with your audience that they will want to continue through ongoing encounters with your ideas, whether that happens by way of podcasts, interviews, books, or attending future talks.
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