Tap into the power of metaphor

Winston Churchill warned of an iron curtain descending across Europe. Martin Luther King shared his dream. John F. Kennedy decreed that the torch has been passed to a new generation. 

In all three cases, the speaker used the power of metaphor to paint a vivid picture to get listeners behind their ideas. 

A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes a subject by comparing it to and calling it the same as an otherwise unrelated object. The word metaphor comes to English from the Greek term to carry between or transfer. In other words, a metaphor lets you carry meaning from one entity to another. So, a good use for metaphor in a speech or presentation is to help the audience see or understand a concept.  Read More...

Make your key message stand out - Gangnam Style!

How do you get around a city when you can't speak the language or decipher most of the signs and public notices? With relative ease, if you're visiting Seoul, South Korea. Westerners can confidently navigate the city's ultra-modern subway system because key information is posted in Roman script as well as the elegant hangul lettering Koreans use. On a trip to Seoul recently, it occurred to me that speech givers and presenters could learn something from the city's subway planners about making key message STAND OUT.

People retain only a small percentage of what they hear. The retention rate rises when they both hear and see information, but not by a huge amount. To help the audience remember your key point takes some work. Here are three tactics you can use to highlight your most important message: Read More...

Are you attuned to the needs of diverse audiences?

As people cross national boundaries to meet and collaborate, the demand continues for speeches and presentations aimed at international audiences. Are you attuned to the special needs of these listeners? The event might be scheduled to take place on the other side of the globe, or it could be happening close to home and attracting participants from different countries and cultural backgrounds.

Whatever the case, such assignments call for extra awareness and sensitivity to avoid gaffes that could mar the message. After all, the last thing you want to hear is that the audience roared with laughter at a faux pas, or, worse, sat in stony silence because they were offended. Yet, either scenario can unfold in a heartbeat.

How you plan and edit your work can make a big difference. It can be a matter as small as choosing one word over another, or as large as structuring your speech or presentation to suit the listeners’ cultural expectations. No one can say for certain what will work in every situation. But, by following some guidelines and practices based on experience, you can raise the chances that your talk will get a warm reception.

Here are some suggestions:

One last look just might pay off...

The fuse on speech assignments seems to be getting shorter. That’s my impression and other writers have told me they’re seeing the same the trend. With the pressure to research and write speeches under rush conditions how do you keep up standards? It’s not easy, especially when tight deadlines leave you with little choice but to cut corners.

No matter how fast you have to scramble to get a script together, here are three things you should always do.

  • Put the finished speech away, even for 5 −10 minutes, while you drink a cup of coffee or look out the window. Your eyes probably need a rest anyway. Then, read over the speech one more time. It’s surprising how many typos, missed words and lumpy constructions jump out when you look at a draft with fresh eyes.
  • Grab a highlighter and go hunting for the key messages. Mark them, then read them again. Does the opening include a clear main message? Could it be sharper? What about your secondary messages? Are they easy to pick out and do they support the main message? Tweak if necessary.
  • Test drive the speech. In other words, read it out loud. And, stand up to do it. Mark spots where you stumble, or need to take a deep breath to continue. Then, go back and make changes.

Er…And your point is?

One of the cardinal rules of slide design is: one slide = one topic. Yet even applying that rule, many people still cram their presentation visuals so full of material that the purpose is unclear. So here’s another rule to apply: every slide has to have a point that the audience can absorb in seconds.

Presentation pro and author Nancy Duarte says slides are a glance media, much like billboards. Brain researcher John Medina says multitasking is a myth. People can’t listen to a presenter and read slides at the same time. Other research states that people lose interest in slides very quickly, no matter how well designed they are. The evidence is overwhelming: you need to make your point crystal clear and do it fast. Read More...

Write It to Say It Rather Than Read It

Has the written speech had its day? That question, posed at the UK Speechwriters’ Guild Conference in February, is getting a lot of attention. The debate started when Russian presentation specialist Alexei Kepterev argued that impromptu communication is more authentic and preferable to safe, dull written speeches. His remarks sparked a spirited response from other speechwriters in their blogs and even the Huffington Post. Follow the links to read posts by the always interesting Martin Shovel, Max Atkinson, Charles Crawford and Kepterev himself.

Now, I don’t agree that authenticity and written out speeches are mutually exclusive ideas. However, Alexei Kepterev’s observation that formal speech texts are often dull is spot on. And the reason why is simple: they’ve been written for the page, rather than the stage.

One of the keys to crafting a good speech is to write it to be spoken, not read. Here are three techniques for using a script to engage in conversation with your audience as opposed to merely reading them your speech. Read More...

How The Three Little Pigs can make you a better speaker

It’s not always what you say, but how you say it...

A surefire way to bore people when you speak is to talk in a monotone voice. You may think you’re speaking with expression, but unless you make a conscious effort, you probably aren’t. The good news is that most people can ramp up their vocal variety with just a bit of practice.

Here are three simple techniques to try:

Keep attention by mixing questions with answers

Where’s the beef?

Even if you’re too young to remember actress Clara Peller asking that question in an eighties-era TV ad, the catchphrase probably sounds familiar. “Where’s the beef?” quickly became shorthand for expressing skepticism, and as such soon graced more than a few speeches and presentations. While Clara’s line might be considered a bit hackneyed today, injecting rhetorical questions into your scripts is still a good idea. 

In the book POP! Create the Perfect Pitch, Title, and Tagline for Anything, business communicator Sam Horn writes: “Declarative sentences sit on the page. Questions engage.” The same is true when language is spoken. Audiences like to hear questions. See below for three reasons why you should ask questions and how to use them to engage, intrigue and move listeners through a speech or presentation. Read More...