Every good speech, whether a short contest speech or a long keynote, should have 3 clear elements: A Introduction, a Body and a Conclusion. In addition they should all be clear. Your audience should clearly know when you are starting, they should know that you have transitioned into the body (and should follow what your main point or points are), and they should know when you are nearing the end of your speech and what they should feel, think or do at the end.
You can speak on numerous topics, and successful speeches have a variety of themes. However, sometimes speakers can lose their audiences' attention, and they do not have to. There are 3 questions to ask yourself before standing before your audience to speak. One question for the Introduction, one for the Body, and one for the Conclusion. If all 3 are answered, you will engage your audience right away, keep them connected throughout your speech, and make an impact on them before they leave. Most people want to speak, but do not make the impact, connection or engage their audiences to the level they can. So ask yourself these questions, and regardless of your topic, people will listen.
Can I grab the audience's attention right away?
Many audiences are captive – that is they HAVE to be at your presentation – whether it be employees that attend a keynote speech, or live audiences at an event that may have come to see someone else, and you are also on the speaking card. In any event, even if they came to see you, all audiences have ONE question right away: Why should I care about listening to you? They want to know that you are going to be different right away. So what's the answer? BE Different right away. Start with something unexpected. Start with a shocking statistic, a thought provoking question, a powerful quote, or even go right into your story. Just start differently – don't start with the usual, “Thank you for your time”, or “Today I'm going to talk about...” or any other line you have heard 100 times before. You can thank the person who invited you, yes. But general pleasantries are assumed and expected. Do the unexpected and the audience will be left thinking, “Wow! That was a different start! What else will he/she do that will be unexpected. Let me listen some more!” Use your introduction to make your audience curious to learn more. Make them thirsty, then quench their thirst with your speech.
Can the audience tell that I am qualified to speak on my topic?
So you have hooked your audience, they are ready to listen. They are curious, but now they want to know, “Where are you going to take us now?”. They want to know what you will be talking about, and that you are qualified to talk about it. At the end of your introduction as you transition into the body, your audience should know where they are going, but yet still be curious to know about it. For example, if you are going to talk about being honest and consistent with people, you can say “Come back with me for a minute to university, where I was reminded – harshly – about the power of honesty.” You have accomplished 2 things here; first you told your audience that you are going to talk about honesty, and secondly, you made them curious as to how you were harshly reminded about that trait.
And what is the best way to show your audience that you are qualified to speak on the topic? Tell a PERSONAL story. No one is more of an expert on what has happened to you, than you!! When you tell a story, for example about how you learned about leading by example, your story makes you an expert if you learned a lesson, and your audience sees you as an authority on that topic. And according to the book Influence by Robert Cialdini, when people see you as an authority on a topic, they listen.
Can the audience describe my speech/talk in one sentence?
It has been said that all good things must come to an end. Your speech is no different. But do you want it to be a “good” thing, or a “good and memorable” thing? If you want them to remember your speech, regardless of length, your audience should be able to walk away and tell someone what you spoke about in ONE sentence. In other words, what's the moral of the story. To make sure your audience remembers and can recall your speech in a short, succinct thought, use the 3R's to concluding a speech:
People have short memories, and on top of that, many audience members are thinking of other things when you speak. I've spoken in rooms before, and I'm sure that the audience was occasionally thinking of their lunch, work schedules, picking up the children from school after work, what's for dinner, the weather, etc when I was speaking. That's not saying my speeches were boring (I hope!), but that is human nature. We need to be told things, then told them again. So recap your main points during your speech. World Champion Speaker Darren LaCroix uses a term called “holograms” to describe the different points in his stories. Holograms represent the different areas in your speech timeline, or locations that you spoke about. For example, if you spoke in your speech about something that happened at work, then about something that happened at home, make those 2 SEPARATE physical areas on the stage. Only go to one area to talk about the work events, and another to talk about the home events. And during your conclusion, those visual “places” will remain in your audience's mind and so you can recap your point from each place during your conclusion. The same applies for timelines – one area for your 20s, one area for something from your 30s. Recap the main points of your speech, to remind your audience of what was most important.
After recapping your stories, or as part of the recap, your next step is to recall the lesson learned or how the points or stories reinforce the premise or theme of your speech. For example, if my speech was about comparing consistency in personality to the consistency of a Fast Food restaurant, I could say, “So just like when I visited McDonalds in Mexico and could get the same quality Big Mac that I could in Toronto (Recap), ensure that you are always consistent with everyone you encounter (Recall). Always be Consistent.”
Recap your story(s) then recall the lesson you were teaching.
Finally, you want to reward your audience for listening. Give them a prize for finishing the race with you. Tell them how to apply your lesson (Be Consistent with your co-workers, as well as with your family and friends. Make sure everyone you speak to has the same impression of you). In addition, to borrow once again from speaker Craig Valentine, give them a phrase that sums up your talk. Most people at this point will likely be able to describe your speech, but a phrase of your own hammers the message home, and will likely be repeated and remembered. Even if your speech is average, people will remember you fondly if you finished strong. Before I learned many principles that I practice today in speaking, I gave a speech that was mediocre at best. However, one of the lessons I had learned at that time, was to add your own phrase to your speech. Even today, though I am sure the speech is barely remembered, I have heard people in my Toastmasters group quote my phrase and use it in their own lives. Regardless of the low marks I received on that speech, it created a quotable quote and a practicable lesson.
Every speech should have an Introduction, but make sure you grab the audience's attention right away. Every speech has a Body, but make sure you make it personal so that the audience sees you as an authority, qualified to speak on the topic. Finally, all speeches should have a Conclusion, so make sure as speech coach Patricia Fripp says, that your “last words linger” in your audience's mind, and that they can describe your speech as a whole in 1-2 sentences.
Good luck and I would love to hear from you when you use these strategies!
Kwesi Millington helps speakers, presenters and youth to connect with their audiences and master their messages using the power of storytelling in their speeches & presentations. He is a Certified Public Speaking Coach & Youth Mentor.