How to make your speech a walk in the park

I wrote in June about answering the ONE question that can bring a room to tears (in a good way).

Now…I can’t offer you a simple, Mad-Lib-style, insert-adjective-here Template for giving a speech or presentation... but for something a little longer and/or more formal, I do have a sure-fire way to help you organize what you want to say. It can work for a professional or personal moment. It’s structured, reliable, repeatable…but not generic…there’s a difference!

A creative, compelling speech needs to be logical, sequential, and organized… but experienced as open and fluid, surprising and beautiful.

Think about your speech like you’re leading your listeners on a hike on one of your favorite trails. You’d like to give them a view of familiar surroundings, but from a different perspective. Like looking at a lake they drive past every day, but from a point on the opposite shore.

Yes, you want them to learn something but more than that, you want them to feel something. [When we feel something, we remember what you say. Therefore, we remember you.]

So here’s a path you can take:

1. Drop right into the middle of a moment. Capture the hearts and minds of your listeners by placing them in a real scene. When we experience what you saw, felt or heard, we are with you immediately. Dialogue can be a great tool. (“One day I’m walking with my brother and I say to him…Then he says to me…”)

2. Introduce your One Big Idea. Your speech is designed to leave people with one, lasting impression; this is where you present that idea. Introduce us to what you want us to learn.

3. Now it’s time for a personal story that illustrates that One Big Idea. Pull us towards you by painting a picture of your life and a few specific, relevant challenges that relate to that One Big Idea. For instance, in a eulogy, this could be a story about when the person you’re speaking about demonstrated the characteristic you’re remembering them for. It could be that one time you confronted a challenge and applied the tip you just presented. It could be a time that you traveled somewhere and learned that the Idea is more universal than you thought. When it's specific and personal, you help us let go of any resistance we have towards you. When there's a struggle that you’ve overcome (even if it's your ego!) we find ourselves caring about you. Our brains become empathetic and listen in a whole new way.

When I work with clients on important speeches and presentations, they can be surprised by how much I want to know about their upbringing. They think I’m digging around. But to be compelling, you’re going to need to humanize yourself…to pull people closer. So when I ask you to show up and share your inner thoughts and be vulnerable, please don’t be surprised. :)

4. Tell us more! We’re almost to the top of the mountain. You’re speeding up in order to slow down. Here is where you can sneak in some more examples, teaching, or a nugget or two of information. We all know it has to end and we're primed for the resolution. Like when you’re getting to the end of a book you’ve loved. You’ve built a community of believers by this point and we’re right there with you.

5. Wrap Up. This is the parting gift. The value of listening. Send your audience into the world knowing more and thinking differently, newly imagining what’s possible. It’s tempting to share lots of takeaways but please resist. There’s a higher purpose to this, and our head – and our hearts -- can handle only one big message.

The hike is over, and it felt like a walk in the park. Your listeners get to leave refreshed, entertained and inspired.

You can do this. And, if you hit a snag, I can help. As you might have guessed, I love this work.

jessica bonin