Life is a big ceremony. Different occasions call for a few sentences to celebrate a person or an achievement, mark the end of an era or the beginning of a new chapter, ease our transition into a different state of mind, deepen our reflection, or raise our spirits. Yet, do we always know what to say in these instances? Or are we sometimes speechless, lost for words? Whether it’s a wedding toast, commencement speech, or eulogy, if you keep our guidelines in mind, you will never again lose sleep over the stress of a live performance.
First thing’s first, the main purpose of every speech is to evoke certain emotions, they are the why behind every speaking engagement. Tread carefully, upsetting your audience is the last thing you want. Let your emotional intelligence lead the way, dive deeper into your own emotions to understand those of your listeners better. Adjust your emotional radar, tune your speech into the vibrations of people you want to impact, and you may bend their reaction to your will (bear in mind, that’s a huge responsibility). A job well done is influencing your audience’s feelings in a positive way.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
What’s The Occasion?
What dictates the emotional atmosphere of your speech is the occasion you’re preparing it for. A wedding toast is different from a commencement address and lies miles away from a eulogy. The event sets the tone. A birthday party will call for uplifting and upbeat messages of youth and vitality (no matter your age). Similarly, on a wedding day, we need you to speak the language of love to fuel romanticism. A funeral will require a high level of sensitivity and empathy from you to help your audience come to terms with loss and grief, whereas a graduation should be filled with nothing but excitement for the bright future ahead.
Your speech should be tailored to the eyes and ears of your listeners. Talking to board members during a corporate pitch meeting like they were your friends will not get you very far. You need to adjust the substance of your speech, your verbiage, and the tone of your voice to the expectations of the crowd. Start by putting yourself in your audience’s shoes, get to know them well. Establish who your addressees are, what kind of reaction you want to elicit from them, and what you think they need to hear.
Your audience is the most important element of the speech event and they can make or break it. Keep them engaged and on their toes. Every so often, ask them a question (without forcing anyone to answer, have mercy on all the introverts), pause (sudden silence will catch the attention even of the furthest row in the back), use props and theatrics, or incorporate movement into your speech in some crafty way (boosting your listeners’ blood flow will wake them up).
Language tricks will work equally well. Words design our reality, and, by extension, your speech will do exactly that, a portion of reality will be altered by what you say. For this reason, the opening line matters greatly. It has the power to catch your audience’s attention in a matter of a few words, it’s your door to success and making a positive difference in your listeners’ lives. With the first line you introduce the subject matter, the overall tone, and the angle of your speech. It’s the moment your audience decides whether it is worth their while to listen to you.
No, Thank You
Keep your speech concise and structured, otherwise you’ll be running the risk of sounding like a boring preacher. Avoid clichés like dictionary definitions of the simplest concepts or thanking each and every person who came to listen to you talk. In the blink of an eye, such unnecessary or lengthy segments may turn your brilliant opening line into a distant memory. Structure your speech very selectively, focus on what really adds value to what you want to convey. Repetition and clever paraphrasing work well for the retention of ideas you want to get across but leave it for your key points only.
For more inspiration head over to the TED Talk realm. TED speakers are masters of delivering life-altering to-the-point lectures in a limited time frame.
Once Upon a Time
Stories have carried mankind through time ever since we learnt how to tell them. Hence, they make one of the best possible components of a successful speech. By shying away from anecdotes you will lose the advantage of sparking your audience’s imagination. Collect stories that illustrate your message best and then select the most interesting and relevant ones to incorporate into your speech. Metaphors enchanted in the narrative and the golden rule of show, never tell will create space for your listeners to experience what you’re talking about through all senses. Storytelling makes the most complex notions comprehendible, relatable, and memorable.
Nothing but the Truth
Honesty is the best policy. If you get caught red-handed being untruthful to your audience once, you will lose their trust forever. Falsehood and deceit will close the curtain down on you for good. There is no going back from a lie. If you smash a mirror, you may be able to put the pieces back together, yet the cracks are beyond repair. Your speech needs truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If it’s harsh, find all the bright sides to it, but always tell it like it is. Follow your intuition, it will dictate the right words to help you turn darkness into light.
Proper preparation prevents poor performance. This adage could not be more applicable to delivering a successful speech. Journal about what you want to say, invite friends to help you write your speech, read it more than once to yourself out loud, memorize it, or print it in a font that will be easy to decipher if you decide to rely on a piece of paper.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin
When you take your task seriously and devote enough time and energy to it, your confidence will sweep your listeners off their feet. Stand up straight, speak up, and dive into the experience. Your speech is a gift to your audience.