Tips and Techniques for Speeches and Presentations

How to make a speech ‘sizzle’

1. Preparation – fail to prepare, prepare to fail!

-Preparation and practice: research and prepare your speech well in advance and rehearse it at least five times in front of the mirror or until you feel you know it. Great speakers know their speech inside out but look as if they are delivering their words off the cuff. Knowing and being comfortable with your ‘lines’ means you can focus on eye contact, delivery and engaging with your audience.

-PowerPoint and other support materials: never rely on these or use them as a crutch. Your slides or audio-visual materials should support and help illustrate what you are saying but never be a substitute for you. The best way to test how reliant you are on these aids is to ask yourself what would happen if your PowerPoint broke down – would you be able to continue effectively without it? If you couldn’t, you need to kick the habit and re-think your presentation.

-Tailor your material to your audience: if it’s an after dinner speech, you need lots of humour. If you are speaking on an expert subject, make it informative, interesting and engaging.

-Keep it short and entertaining: 10 minutes is enough to keep people riveted and leave them wanting more! Use the remaining time up in your question and answer session. Think about it, who ever complained about a speech being too short?

-Test-drive your speech: on a partner or close friend and ask them for feedback and timing.

Check your microphone and equipment works: there’s nothing like a technical hitch to put you off your game so make sure everything’s in working order and audio levels and feedback issues have been checked so that your audience can hear you.

2. Speech-writing and delivery tips and techniques

-Use an attention-grabbing title: apart from hooking and attracting people to hear you speak, a good headline grabs people’s attention, gets them curious and interested and can help build the event and the audience’s excitement.

-Plain English: the best speakers bring simple language to life. Don’t alienate and bamboozle your audience with jargon, management speak or pretentious and complicated technical speak. People who do this either don’t understand their subject well enough to communicate it in simple terms or have had a creative by-pass’ and are born to be boring. Here’s a great example of meaningless, alienating twaddle: “Neoclassical endogenous growth theory and a symbiotic relationship between investment in people and infrastructure.” – Gordon Brown, former British prime minister

-Opening and closing lines should pack a punch: metaphors, drama and using misdirection make great speech openers and ice-breakers and are a powerful way to hook your audience, link to your message and set up the key points you want to make.

-Pause to create dramatic effect. It will keep people listening and give your speech impact and energy. Remember, to also pause before you start speaking, it’s a great way to calm you and your audience.

-Pace: don’t rush your words but also don’t be afraid to change the pace of your speech to add emphasis, drama and impact to your message. It will also help to keep your audience engaged.

-Pitch: occasionally alter the volume and tone of your delivery. Speaking quieter or louder and being more cheerful or more serious all adds dramatic effect and keeps the attention of your audience.

-Enthusiasm: if you are enthusiastic about your subject, then your audience will be too. Enthusiasm gives a speech energy and strength so don’t leave home without it.

Eye-contact engages your audience. Create spots in the room at the back, sides, centre and front of your audience and run your eyes regularly across them. Find three or four individuals in different parts of the room that you can direct the occasional line and hand-gesture to.

-Hand movements: which help you express your words and meaning are great, but make sure they look natural. We’ve seen some pretty silly-looking CEOs gesturing like manic robots because they’ve been told to do so by their PRs. It looks hilarious and turns you into a complete ‘wally’ and ‘chump’ in the eyes of your audience and the people you want to impress and influence!

-Move about if you can: if you have the room to move about and use the floorspace where you are speaking, do it. It’s a great way of keeping people’s attention, particularly if you’ve got a dry topic. It also allows you to make your presentation more upfront, close and personal for your listeners.

3. Structure and content of a speech

-Start with a structure: decide on what your main message is and then start breaking it down into three key points you want to make. These can be further broken down depending on how much detail you want.

-In short: the beginning should tell your audience what you are going to say, the middle: telling the story and the ending: telling them what you’ve said.

-Tell people something new, interesting and memorable.

Bring the story to life with examples and real-life experiences: a great way to get people listening to you is to weave a relevant stories or examples of yours or other people’s experiences which bring the presentation to life for the listener.

-Incorporate memorable ‘one liners’ and colourful metaphors: these help to grab the readers attention, keep them interested in what you are saying and make your speech memorable. Here are some example: “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail,” Speak softly and carry a big stick and you will go far.” – Theodore Roosevelt

-Use short, sharp sentences for dramatic effect. Examples of short sentences: ‘Failure is not an option’ and ‘The time is now’.

-Apply positive adjectives and adverbs. Instead of for example: “We face many challenges” say “We face many exciting challenges”; or “We will work on our problems” but “We will work together to solve our problems”.

-Use alliteration to make words memorable and quotable: for example: ‘Broadband Britain’, ‘Britain’s best business bank’, ‘the digital divide’, and ‘formidable, fashionable, functional.’

-Make comparisons: with other organisations, competitors and people’s situational experiences and highlight what can be learned from them.

-Use three-part sentences to create dramatic effect. This technique is called a ‘tricolon’, for example: ‘Government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ and ‘We came, we saw, we conquered’.

-Repeat your key words for dramatic effect. British wartime prime minister Winston Churchill’s famous speech is a good example: ‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fighton the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets…’

-Use memorable one-liners. For example: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Sir Winston Churchill

-Opening witticisms: these are good for warming-up the audience at the start of your speech or presentation. Here are some good examples: “I don’t mind how much my minister’s talk, as long as they do what I say.” – former British prime minster Margaret Thatcher.

-End with a high impact statement: that reinforces your opening line. If for example, you were delivering a speech on the importance of business change, you might end with a famous quote: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw, and “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin.