How to Give a Great Speech

The conference was large with 10,000 attendees in a major city at a great venue.

The conference keynote speakers in the ‘big room’ were heavy hitters. They set the bar for the sessions throughout the conference. Plainly put, if you were a speaker chosen for the conference and you were not a heavy-hitting keynote speaker, you better be good; real good. The bar was set high.

Keynotes have the best of everything to make their speech go well. So there is no room to make rookie mistakes, especially if you are a high-ranking executive of well-known company called to speak at a conference session. The audience has a high level of expectation.

How to Blow a Speech

The speaker in a break out session I attended truly blew it. What could have been a great speech was instead a boring presentation given to a room with at least 500 seats, all filled.

Being at the top of the org chart at a well-known company may have given the speaker a bit too much confidence. The speaker may have thought the audience would be dying to hear their every word due to their important position. As a result, the speaker phoned it in and made amateur mistakes.

The speaker already had a career position that every person in the room would die for, so a little effort could have gone a long way. Instead, the speaker blew it. Here is how:

  • A Condescending Approach – The speaker was sure enough that who they were was enough and the title they held was ample enough reason to not bother to win the audience over. Instead, the speaker dove right into the presentation without connecting with the audience
  • A Boring Slide Deck – I can almost imagine the conversation the speaker had with their executive assistant about 5:30 PM the night before the speech. It went something like this, “Hey, find me the most bore-ass slide deck from the strategic planning session last week and put it on my laptop.” And then the speaker said, “Oh, and print it out with each slide on an individual page, but don’t staple the pages.”
  • Reading Off Sheets of Paper – Not only did the speaker read off each slide from each sheet of paper, but since the papers were not fastened together in some way, the speaker began mixing them up.
  • Not using the laptop screen as a prompter – The speaker not only used mixed up papers as a guide to the slides, the speaker also kept the laptop screen open and never referred to it.
  • Stood behind the Podium – Not only to the speaker hang onto the podium like it was a life raft, but the speaker kept the laptop open on top of the podium blocking even more of the audience from view. This was another way to disconnect from the audience.
  • A Trailed Off Ending – The speaker decided to stop speaking when there were no more boring slides. There was no planned big ending, no final lingering and intelligent thought. It just ended with time for questions.
  • Few Questions – The audience was ready to leave. So when it came to questions, there were only two and each had an agenda of selling something to the executive. Other than that, the passionate Q&A I saw at other sessions did not exist in this one.

How to Give a Great Speech

Here is how to give a great speech after considering the mistakes above:

  • Connect with Your Audience – Regardless of your position or experience in your industry, connect with every audience and get them on your side. Take a minute to humanize the experience.
  • Create Great SlidesHasn’t Nancy Duarte taught us anything? Nancy has worked with some of the top names in business. Through her work we should now know that slides must be beautiful and help us tell the story. The slides should not BE the story.
  • Use the Screen as a Promoter – Know your material. Use a monitor or laptop screen to prompt you. Connect with your audience, not with sheets of paper.
  • Move Around – Unless you have an absolutely great reason to depend on a podium, get out from behind it and learn to deliver your presentation to the audience. Connect. Roam the stage.
  • Use Drama – Plan your speech to have highs and lows. At the very least, plan a great ending. Leave your audience wanting more.
  • Prompt Great Questions – Leave room for the audience to ask great questions. Raise issues throughout your speech.

When an audience gives you their time and presence to hear your speech or see your presentation they deserve your best stuff.

It is very easy to get lulled into not working for your audience, especially the higher up the ladder you sit in your industry. If you can’t work to give the best speech possible supported by dynamic slides (or no slides at all) then don’t accept the invitation to speak.

Careers can be made or derailed by one speech or presentation. Make every opportunity to speak a great one for the audience.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.