What makes a speech outstanding?
It depends who you ask. Some might say storytelling. Some might say getting emotion out of an audience. Some still may say an outstanding speech must be informative. There is merit in all of this.
However, as a coach, I've seen speeches that have had stories, moments of emotion, and nuggets of information, that still needed a lot of work to make them outstanding.
Developing an outstanding speech is not something that many speakers bother to do. There may be many reasons for this. I believe the major one is that most speakers are better at the art of public speaking than those people that they speak to. The average audience member may be an expert in many areas, however the speaker is more often than not the #1 communication expert in the room.
When someone is better than everyone in their vicinity at something, they feel diminished pressure to improve. For example, right or wrong, if you live on a street or work in an office where you have the nicest car or make the highest income, you likely feel a sense of satisfaction. However, move into a neighborhood or surround yourself with people that make more, do more and have more, and you will likely be stimulated to attain a higher level of success. That's what I call the “Fabulous Five” factor. You may have heard of this – you become the average of the five people that you spend the most time with. Try verifying the validity of this – look at your five closest friends or associates. Is your income level similar? Do you have the same interests? Similar lifestyle? Most likely.
Relation to speaking. Just as up-leveling your association ups your ambition, many settle based on their surroundings. The speaker that gives good speeches, is always the best speaker in the room, and makes a living in the business may get caught up in the belief that they are as good as they need to be.
Why be good, when you can be great?
Why just make an income, when you can make a larger impact?
Why settle for an ordinary oration, when you can deliver one that is outstanding?
Here are 3 steps to help you up-level your speech.
Outstanding Speech Step #1 – Outline
The speech that you give should have a structure. This does not have to be rigid, but there should be a clear indication (to both you and your audience) where you are starting and finishing. In addition, you should know what you are placing into the body of your speech and why. Your audience wants to know where you are going when you speak. It's the same reason why many people skim through a book before buying it from the bookstore. We want to know if the journey is worth investing into. Having an outline to your speech keeps the journey clear to you, and will make it clear to the audience that you are speaking to as well.
Outstanding Speech Step #2 – Organization
Secondly, your speech should have a flow. How does this differ from structure? A talk with a good outline has a clear beginning, middle and end. However, just because these are present, does not guarantee that they will flow logically into each other. The key is to have natural transitions. Can your audience see how one segment of your speech will lead to the next? Here are 3 questions to consider:
Organization Question #1 – Are you telling a story?
If you are telling a story that is chronological in nature, your speech will naturally be organized by the telling of your story in life stages. For example, “when I was ___, I did this....” then “fast forward to _____, this happened”. Your story can organize your speech flow for you.
Organization Question #2 – Can you organize your points into an acronym or logical numerical flow?
Do you have points that you are outlining during your speech? Often, it is not just enough to tell your audience your points. Think of a way that you can organize them in a memorable way. Can you spell a word with your points? Can you create an acronym? Use alliteration, such as “3Cs to ___”? Think of making your content digestible for your audience.
Organization Question #3 – Can you simply “paint a picture” to show your transitions?
Finally, can your stage simply organize your speech for you. There is a reason that the phrase “a picture says 1,000 words” exists. The audience sees the scene of your story, based on the words that you say. Where you are, and what you are doing when you say those words paints a picture that brings the story to life much more than simply hearing what is said. Draw out your story on paper. Map out where you will be and how you will physically describe the scenes of your story. When you have “painted” a scene in one area on your stage, let another area serve as your natural transition to another scene that you are about to paint.
Outstanding Speech Step #3 – Outcome
Finally, what is the desired outcome or objective of your speech. Just as you would not jump into your car and start driving without having an idea of where you are going, you should not jump into your speech and speak without direction. Your direction can be answered with one question – what do you want your audience to think, feel or do differently as a result of hearing you speak? Maybe you have heard that before, but truly taking the time to WRITE out your answer to this question, and keeping it front of mind as you prepare your speech will focus you on the eventual outcome of your story.
Use these “O's” to develop your next outstanding speech, with one final “O” - Observation. Record yourself everytime you speak. That one practice of reviewing what you have spoken will add to your development more than you can imagine. You may not be comfortable watching yourself at first, but as a coach of mine once said:
“If you don't want to watch yourself, why should anyone else watch you?”
Get out there, and be outstanding!!
SPEAK. SHARE. SERVE
Kwesi Sekou Millington
Speaker & Storytelling Coach
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.