How to Give a Good Speech: 5 Tips from a Professional Notetaker

How would you like to know for certain that your speeches will never again be met with blank stares from your audience? No one likes a speech where the person shows off how much they know and you don’t. Your speech is not an opportunity to pontificate, but your opportunity to teach others something you know and bring them along on the journey of how you got there. Don’t show off, just show them! Unfortunately you can’t control how well your audience understands your content, but you CAN make it easy for them to follow along with you. Clients pay me to come to their events and translate a speech (in real-time, without ever getting the notes or slides beforehand) to a visual summary with written words and impactful drawings. My industry calls this skill Graphic Recording, but most people call it Visual Notes. It might sound difficult to do, but when I listen to a practiced, experienced professional, my job is a piece of cake!

If you’re the kind of person who gives speeches (or wants to), here are a few tips from the one person in the audience whose job is to discern your content and flow.

#1: Be an expert.

One of the easiest ways to deliver a great speech is to actually know what you’re talking about.
  • Experts know how to talk about what they know in more than one way
  • Experts can answer any question
  • Experts have little reason to be nervous because their knowledge has been tested and refined
  • Experts don’t need to fake anything or BS to fill in gaps of knowledge. Your audience isn’t dumb, so don’t treat them like they are.

#2 Practice really matters

Similar to being an expert on your speech’s content, you need to be an expert on your speech delivery.
  • Get feedback from friends or a Toastmasters club to eliminate bad habits like “ums” and using your hands too much.
  • Have a 20, 30, 45, and 60 minute version of your speech and practice them regularly. If you ever need to adjust on the fly for time’s sake, you know what you can cut without getting distracted.
  • Go to sound checks and be familiar with the technology you’ll be using like microphones, a slide clicker, or playing a video from your laptop. Ask the AV Team what to do if something goes wrong on stage. I have a friend who uses their own microphone for events so they’re never caught off guard by using different tools

#3 Use verbal structure

Humans always want to know what’s going to happen next. We love information and structure! You speech probably has an outline, right? Verbalize that outline and you’ll create a happy audience that can track with you. From all the speeches I’ve heard, I created a simplified formula you can use to introduce yourself and your ideas:
“Hello, my name is (name) and I am a/do (your area of expertise). Today I’m going to talk about (overall theme) and show you the (number) steps to get there. My hope is by the end of our time together you will have learned (specific, big idea).”
People who use this formula as their speech intro are successful because it works! Here’s why:
  • It establishes you as an expert. It sounds silly, but you have to talk a little about yourself and position yourself as an expert to get people to trust what you say. You can do this yourself, or someone can introduce you before you come on stage. You can’t assume people know who you are and what you know. If you don’t, the audience will be asking “Who are you? Why should I trust what you’re telling me?”
  • It gives a target to shoot for. Everything you share should be supporting that specific, big idea you want them to take away or really grasp.
  • It gives a mental to-do list. With each step you verbalize, your audience can mentally check off each item in the list and know how many items are left.
There is one risk to using verbal structure for your content though- you have to do it 100% correctly every time! You can’t say “My first point is A, my second point is B, C, and my fourth point is D.” You audience may not be able to discern your different points unless you are explicit! If you don’t trust yourself to be clear on your verbal structure, at least have a a well-designed slide presentation for them to follow along with (and you should be familiar with it, too).

#4 Less is more

When it comes to your speech, you don’t have to cram in everything you know into your time slot. A speech is like an introduction to your idea, not a full-blown course on it. Use your time to present what you know but leave some gaps and let the audience come to you for more later on. I particularly see this with authors. Authors can’t give an exhaustive speech about their entire book in 30-45 minutes, so they give a brief overview and then go into detail on a select few ideas from a chapter or two. Withholding your knowledge isn’t teasing your audience, it’s being respectful! Instead of cramming everything you know down their throats, you’re giving a gentle invitation for them to come to you for more if they’re interested, like buying your book, subscribing to your email list, or getting the slide deck from you.

#5 Be respectful of time and be respectful to other people

As a speaker, you have no control over how well the schedule is adhered to but you do have control over yourself. If the speaker before you goes over into your time slot, consider making your speech shorter instead of going long into the person after you, too. The domino effect can stop with you if you make a small sacrifice, and the event team WILL notice. I work with a lot of event planners. Did you know they talk to each other about the speakers they bring in? Heck, they even talk about the speakers after they leave the room! I know, because I’ve been in that room. If you act like a self-righteous diva, they’ll warn everyone (including their event-planning friends) about you. If you act graciously and humbly, they’ll rave about you to everyone. Which sounds better- getting your way, or making people want to work with you? It doesn’t matter if you’re a big-time thought leader or a up-and-coming expert no one is heard of- you be respectful to everyone you encounter while at an event. Just like the familiar quote says:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou
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