We’ve all sat through tedious speeches, praying for them to end. But what happens when you’re at the other end and you want to create a speech that engages your audience throughout? How can you connect with your audience and deliver your ideas more engagingly?
Professional speakers live and die by their preparation. It might seem as though your favorite speaker constantly ad-libs with insightful and unplanned segues, but that seemingly ad hoc amusing story they told is likely the result of hours of preparation behind the scenes. Top speakers learn about genre expectations, and research their audience long before they set pen to paper or finger to key. They watch successful speakers and work with others to refine their routines. If speakers are even considering sliding some humor into their speech, they’ll plan it thoroughly beforehand, and will ensure that their research shows that it is likely to go down well with the audience.
Engaging speakers understand that there is no shortcut to success and that they must spend difficult hours honing their craft before they take to the stage. This doesn’t mean you have to follow a script, but it will ensure that you have laid solid foundations for a successful speech. To practice your speech, stand up, visualize the space where you will present, and gradually work towards your end goal of a memorized, clearly delivered speech. By imagining yourself in the context of your performance, you engage in something sports psychologists call mental practice and representation. Mental practice and representation will also calm your nerves as the day of your speech approaches and is proven to improve your overall performance.
Speaking is a skill. Like any skill, you must get accurate feedback to improve your performance. Reaching out to others for feedback on your public speaking is incredibly useful, and can help point out some of your flaws and areas where improvement is possible as a public speaker. As you progress as a speaker, you’ll want to create a network of people who can give feedback on more subtle points of your presentation, while you further refine the way you deliver engaging speeches.
You can also give yourself valuable feedback when practicing at home by recording yourself and watching the video back. When you watch yourself back, break down your speech and assess your tone, pacing, body language, and any distracting speaking habits you may have picked up.
Of course, the best feedback comes from experts. Depending on the venue in which you plan to become a speaker, you may find it useful to gain further education. Most higher education programs require you to present your work orally to a group, and many educators will train you to become a more successful, engaging speaker. If you decide to pursue something like an MBA, you can expect to find business leaders who have valuable experience pitching ideas to rooms of influential strangers. They will be able to help you identify the weak points of your performance, and might just give you the tips that make the difference.
Use Visual Strategies
If you ever attend conferences led by professional speakers, you might notice that they utilize perfectly balanced visual strategies to keep audiences engaged. The best speakers know how to limit the amount of information they provide visually, while still providing content of value in their slides, videos, or infographics. Creative visual strategies can help you convey complex ideas, improve information retention, and will help you maintain your audience’s focus.
Remember to vary the presentation of your visual information. If you continuously present slides with a header and four bullet points, your audience will check out mentally. However, if you include pictures, represent information through charts, and foreground important quotes, then you are far more likely to create engaging visual information to enhance the quality of your speech.
In the field of rhetoric, there is a fundamental concept called “Kairos”. Kairos describes the timeliness of speech and is implemented when speakers take advantage of their current moment to connect an audience with an idea. As a speaker, you’re always trying to make your speech kairotic. That is, you are trying to be in the right place, at the right time on purpose.
As an abstract idea, kairos is simple to understand. However, utilizing the concept of kairos in your speech is far more challenging. Kairos requires that you have your ear to the ground, and are always on the lookout for cultural moments that will help people connect with your message.
Kairos should also impact the delivery of your speech; JFK’s “City Upon the Hill” speech was delivered differently than the commencement address he gave to the US military during the Vietnam War. The moment was different, and JFK—being a great speaker—adapted his delivery to meet that moment. While your speech doesn’t have to address a nation, you can still find utility in the idea of kairos.
Bringing it Together
Becoming an engaging speaker takes time, practice, and effort. You are far more likely to find success if you do your research, collaborate with other speakers, and adapt your speech to the target audience. It’s worth remembering that some folks are simply more charismatic than others, and that’s ok. If you feel like your speech could use some extra charisma, build in creative visual elements which capture and hold your audience.
Amanda Winstead is a writer focusing on many topics including business and professional development. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.