Audiences come, and audiences go, from one conference or convention to the next. While there, they hear from one speaker after another. As months and years go by, how many of those speakers do you suppose leave a lasting impact? The answer: not many.
You can be different. Just use these six key components to delivering a memorable speech:
- Open with a flourish
- Challenge conventional wisdom
- Have a flair for the dramatic
- Freeze the moment
- Hit the highs and lows
- Give a powerful closing
1. Open with a flourish: If you open with some lame line — “Mr. Speaker … ” “Madam Chairman …, ” you’re merely parroting what you’ve seen on TV. Inane greetings like “How are you today?” or “It’s great to be here” lose attendees who find these to be fluff at best, and, at worst, contrived. Powerful openings relate to the time, situation, meeting place or a critical issue facing the group. They can be a challenge, a question, a humorous remark that relates to the business at hand, a historical or contemporary quote, a startling statistic or a profound observation, etc.The common denominator: You immediately and completely capture the attention of the entire audience. A powerful opening requires homework. You must know your audience and what it’s heard from previous speakers. Perhaps some article in a monthly publication has had great impact. Or something in the industry is commanding everyone’s attention. The power is in linking the hot-button item to your opening.
2. Challenge conventional wisdom. Telling people what they already know in a new, intriguing way has benefits but won’t make your speech memorable. Talk, instead, about the industry rule/axiom you’re ready to overturn. What have attendees always counted on that needs to seen in a new way? What guiding principle has been untouched for years but now needs a fresh truth? Challenge conventional wisdom again and again in a most authoritative, insightful way, and you’ll be remembered.
3. Have a flair for the dramatic. The most memorable speakers/speeches in the past half-century had this flair. Mario Cuomo, Jesse Jackson, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf all knew how and when to raise and lower their voices, draw the audience in with anecdotes, and appeal to the expectations/emotions of their listeners. Like them, use the lectern and stage as your playing field. Use facial expressions, eye and hand movements, and other gestures as tools of your trade. Engage listeners. Make it hard for them to turn away. Attention spans are short, so draw upon everything in your arsenal of interpersonal communication skills to convey energy and dynamism. Keep your voice lively and upbeat. Get into a rhythm. Compell your attendees to keep listening, whether or not they agree with you.
4. Freeze the moment. To make his point and prove his point, a certain university professor stood on his desk in the middle of a lecture and poured a pitcher of water over his head. You don’t need to go that far, but you do need to consider options for freezing the moment: standing on a table, making an exaggerated movement, raising your voice. Go through tapes or transcripts of your speeches to determine where and when you can add a gesture that will freeze the moment in the minds of attendees.
5. Hit the highs and lows. In theater it’s been said that if you make them laugh, you’ll run for six months. If you make them cry, you’ll run for a year. If you make them laugh and cry, you’ll run forever. In essence, a memorable talk takes your audience on a roller-coaster ride of emotions. Not wantonly, not arbitrarily and not haphazardly but in a choreographed, synchronized fashion. Is this manipulation? Not if you use emotion to emphasize the points you’re trying to make. Life is full of highs and lows, life is full of happiness and sorrow. It’s perfectly permissible and highly desirable to emulate life in your speech
6. Give a powerful closing. Regardless of length, it’s human nature for attendees’ level of responsiveness to pick up as you draw to a close. Many speakers indicate they’re closing by saying something such as, “In the remaining few minutes … ” or “let me close with a story on … ” However you choose to convey this is up to you. What’s important is building toward a powerful finish. Some speakers recite verse, their own or others’. Some sing. In all cases, you should build on what your speech discussed and, ideally, bookend, so the ending circles back to your opening. This gives attendees a sense of closure. Keep the closing routine short and on the mark. Don’t stumble. Don’t belabor earlier points. Don’t waste the audience’s last wave of attention. A powerful closing ends with a powerful concluding statement. “Thank you” does not qualify. Your final statement must be choreographed, delivered dramatically and at a somewhat higher volume. It must infiltrate and expand throughout the entire meeting room.
Also by Jeff Davidson: Finding speakers when travel is an issue