You can imagine, That in an association of professional speakers, the question of how to improve a speech is constantly discussed. There is a lot of theorizing, trial and error, and a lot of watching the big speakers on the Internet to analyze why millions of people want to watch such a speech.
This is certainly also due to the topic. The basics of nuclear physics are probably less interesting to the audience than black rhetoric. But on every topic there is the best one or ones who demonstrate how to present a topic in such a way that you reach the world with it.
Over time, a few patterns and techniques have developed that distinguish a good speech from a brilliant speech. And these tools are just as applicable when I prepare a press conference for a company boss or an annual meeting for a politician.
Stories inspire people
The most important tool is storytelling. Stories have been inspiring people for thousands of years, and when content is explained as a story, it’s not only easier to retain, it’s easier for the speaker as well. I always remember the stories of my colleagues. Hans-Uwe L. Kohler as Christopher Columbus, Peter Brandl, who lets us look into the mind of an airplane captain during an emergency landing, or Barbara Messer, who dresses in a white coat in Dr. Knife transforms.
Why not research a few difficulties in product development for your boss? Maybe you should ask the speaker about his personal impressions when he has flown halay around the world to talk to a customer? Why don’t we find out what makes him happy (or angry) when he walks around the factory floor? This makes the boss human, and I can use it to emphasize a specific message in a targeted way.
The head of Lufthansa told that every first class passenger was seen off by name by the stewardess. That would have impressed all passengers as much as him. A wonderful example to explain something about service. I have seen a speaker tell us how cleverly a young girl sold him a magic crayon in the toy section of a department store. A lesson for a perfect sales talk.
Break up the monotonous flow of speech
Equally important is verbatim speech, preferably when the utterance has been experienced by the speaker him/herself. It’s easy to reproduce a sentence you’ve heard, even if you’re not an actor. If the audience knows the sentences well, a connection is made immediately. Verbatim speech makes any speech better and is a welcome interruption to a potentially monotonous flow of speech.
Checklist – What you can save yourself
- Enumerations – nobody keeps them anyway
- Transitions – are unnecessary
- Quotes (especially from Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill and Sophia Thomalla)
- Explaining the world (likes to do it, but there’s almost never time for it)
- Define – I am not more agile if I know how agile is defined
- Apologizing all the time – gladly for mistakes, but not for the speech or its length
- Lying – almost everything comes out
Magic moments are staged in many speeches. Devices are unveiled, things are demonstrated, things are dumped, dropped or smashed. The more effective, the better. A company CEO is not an actor, and we should never ask him to be, but put in a soundtrack, show a photo, get an employee on stage with an object? When Steve Jobs presented the latest Apple device, he had it with him. Whenever Mr. Zetsche appeared somewhere, a sleek Mercedes or at least a picture of it was never far away.
At a Swiss bank, karaoke was announced after the break. The chosen ones would find a piece of paper under their seat. In fact, there were dozens of post-its taped under the seats. After the commotion died down, there was an announcement that there would be no karaoke, but hopefully everyone would be awake and receptive now.
Build suspense and surprise
Think about whether there is a way to make it exciting. The speaker lets the audience guess to what extent the company is digitized. He gives competitors’ numbers as a reference, only to reveal that his own percentage is much better. I have experienced in an investment company that first only the figures until October were shown, and only in a second step the great rally at the end of the year was presented.
How about incorporating a poll or query for once? Of course, the most effective way to do this is to ask the wrong question. Hans Rosling asks his audience where infant mortality is higher: Azerbaijan or Turkey? Then when the fingers go up, he explains to them that they are pointing out, even though they can’t know that at all. A powerful moment. The speaker presents ten rules on a slide, one of them is wrong. Or there are six numbers, one of which is made up. In the same moment an audience would be activated.
Repetition of a term, a particular phrase, or a sentence can also make a speech very memorable. Especially if the audience has the sentence in mind afterwards. The speech would then have something like a refrain. Research and scientific findings can enhance a speech in good doses.
The last big booster is the humor. For professional speakers, this is the most valuable currency. That’s why they like to steal them – our ethics committee is always busy. Humor is hard, you don’t just do it quickly. The former president of the American Speakers Association, Brian Walther, puts it this way: "When dogs dream, they dream they are people. When cats dream, they dream they are dogs. When speakers dream, they dream they are funny."