Nobody likes to listen to boring speeches. Then why is it, that most speeches are extremely boring? There is a certain irony in this. To help you avoiding this pitfall, you will find the five most valuable tips on how to avoid giving boring speeches.
1. Create a structure for your speech, that makes sense – and then execute it in a captivating way
Haven’t you just been at the brink of clicking away? And then you encountered this completely surprising KAWOOM with some extra O’s which made you change your mind and prevented you from hitting the back button or leave to a different web site.
Introduction – Main Part – Conclusion … everybody knows this structure. But how to execute this is a skill not everybody has. Execution means: Create interest in your structural parts. For example, do not start your speech with “I am grateful, that so many of you are here tonight” of “Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to …”
If you are presenting the result of your work at your company, this might be just OK (not in my opinion, however). In a different setting, you need to show right from the beginning that you are not as boring as all the other speakers. Your audience wants to take away something from your speech and you will succeed in this mission only, if they like to listen to you. Therefore, you need to craft a captivating Introduction by presenting a quote, or by telling a sad, or funny, or personal story appropriate to your topic. Or just start with something surprising. Create some variety in your speech by using the transitions between introduction, main part, and conclusion to insert something great.
2. Avoid Information Overload
Sometimes, I just dozed off while sitting in my lectures at uni. And I am not ashamed of it. Why? I fell asleep because of information overload! The reason was not that I was tired. The reason is that too much information exhausts our brains. The best transfer of information is done with stories. Our brains are just not built to consume just facts. Our brains need stories to be able to memorize those facts. This is not to say that from now on you are only allowed to tell stories. But I suggest, that you insert an anecdote, a story or a little tale into your speech every now and then. Your audience will be able to connect with you much easier and they will love to listen to you, if you create pictures in their minds with your words.
3. Know your audience and make eye contact
It’s extremely important to know your audience. You may have the best speech of all times, but if you do not adapt it to you audience it may happen that one day you will receive a standing ovation lasting five minutes whereas on another day you will end your speech in a room full of sleeping people who do not even notice after five minutes, that you have ended already.
Depending on your audience – be it in a private or a professional setting – you need to adapt your speech. Therefore, you need to ask yourself, to whom you will speak and what will be important to your audience. Before you even start writing your speech, ask the organizer of the event; or reach out to one or two attendees and gain some knowledge and insights from them. Of course, this will not always be possible and you may even feel awkward doing this, but it will definitely improve your speech.
Your speech does not start in the moment when you utter your first word at the lectern, but long before. Seasoned speakers mingle with the audience, make small talk and try to create good vibes. Sometimes you may even be lucky enough to get to know something which you can later incorporate into your speech spontaneously.
And the most important thing of all: Make eye contact. In a small group of listeners, you can make eye contact with everybody. In larger group this is not that easy or even impossible, because you will reach the end of your speech long before you have made eye contact with everybody. In that case, do not speak to a single person in the audience, but look at a larger group, and after a while shift to a different group. In this way, everybody will feel involved and noticed.
Without eye contact, you will lose your audience. I once gave a talk about BitCoins. I knew each of my slides in and out, knew when to show the next slide and what the content of the next slide was. I only looked at the projected slides when I wanted to highlight something with my laser pointer.
Eye contact, eye contact, eye contact! Or how do you feel when somebody chats with you and avoids looking into your eyes? It’s the same in a speech.
4. Pick them up, where they are right now
Not with your car or with a bus, of course!
People have different knowledge, and different backgrounds. Be aware of this. You are the expert in your domain! If you do not happen to talk during a congress of scholars you need to assume, that most people do not know much about your domain of expertise. Pick them up where they are right now by explaining a lot and not using technical terms or jargon from your field. Do not assume that your audience has any prior knowledge which they can leverage to understand your speech.
You may pick your audience up by telling a story. Everybody will be able to use their imagination to follow your story. Then you can elaborate on just one aspect of your story and explain this aspect more thoroughly. From there, you can follow up with the information you want to convey to your audience.
This of course is just one example on how you can pick up your audience. Just try out different approaches and get feedback from your audience. Many speakers complain that they only get positive feedback. You need real critique to get better.
5. Reclaim space and fill it with gestures – let your body speak
I used to listen intensely to politicians for an extended period. Speeches in the German parliament usually are extremely boring, because the speakers are pinned behind the lectern and can only use their hands for gestures.
Reclaim some space and use the whole stage. When you provide an argument for something, go to the left side. When you provide a counter-argument, then go to the right side. If you want to talk about several points one after the other, check off each one by proceeding one step further across the stage.
Use your whole body but do it in a natural way. Each person has a unique way to express himself. Try to get aware of your style.
When you speak in a low voice, adapt your movements and make small gestures only. When you speak louder, then make bigger gestures. Just have fun while speaking and your gestures will follow naturally. Record yourself using the tools provided here and look at your videos. Do not be afraid to discover that some of your gestures might look strange. Just learn from those things, which look awkward and find new ways that fit better to you and your style.
55% of the impact of a speech depend on your body language. This fact should be motivation enough to work on it.
With these five tips you now have some great tools to make your speech more captivating. They are not all-encompassing, though. Speaking can only be learnt by speaking. Therefore, you need to practice again, and again. The best speakers are only as good as they are, because they have given thousand speeches more than the rest of us. This is not to say that you need to give thousand speeches to become a good speaker. You probably will reach this goal with much less speeches. But you need to practice!