Reap The Lessons from a Stand-Out Speech

What elements make a great speech? Chancellor Angela Merkel hit upon more than a few when she spoke the day Germany locked down to fight the Covid-19 virus almost a year ago. Rhetoric experts responded by calling her speech the best delivered in 2020.

A panel of academics from Tubingen University described the Chancellor's address to the German people as a vividly written, well-structured model of rhetoric that “directly influenced the German population in a way that almost no other speech of the past years has done.”

Here are a few more reasons why her speech drew high praise:

Speechwriting in a Crisis

One of the jobs I held early in my communications career involved creating content for police crisis exercises. We used some pretty wild scenarios, but the organizers certainly never conjured up anything as dire and exceptional as policing in a pandemic.

And therein lies the challenge with crises. They’re hard to predict. So, does that mean there's nothing you can do to prepare? Not at all. What you can do is is bring yourself up to speed on crisis communications principles. That knowledge will give you a framework for writing effective scripts in critical situations.

Here are some suggestions for things to do:

End on Peak Experience

We all know the importance of making a good first impression, but persuasion scientists tell us that people are deeply influenced by last impressions too. That’s why it’s worth the effort to carefully craft the way you close a speech or presentation.

For years I’ve encouraged people who attend my workshops to take advantage of the rule of recency. According to that rule, an audience tends to remember best and longest the information they hear at the end of a talk. But Steve J. Martin and the co-authors of The Small Big: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence suggest another tool speechwriters can use to heighten persuasion. It’s called the peak experience effect.

According to Martin and friends, amplifying the high points of a situation at or near the end of an interaction can exert enormous influence over future decisions. Rock bands take advantage of this theory, for example, by playing their biggest hits at the end of a concert, leaving fans with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Hotels do the same when they place a chocolate on your pillow, ending the day on a sweet note.

Sharpen Key Words to Maximize Impact

Good speechwriters know it’s important to build a speech or presentation around a strong key message. But, what about choosing key words? Do you have to go to that level of effort? In a recent blog post, author and marketer Seth Godin said when most people scan a memo, post or ad for the first time they only pick up about 10 words. Readers can always re-read written material, unless they’re in a car speeding by a billboard. However, in many cases, listeners get one chance to hear what a presenter has to say. So, choosing key words with care is worth some effort. Besides, the exercise gives you, the writer, another useful tool for sharpening the impact of the ideas you want the audience to take away.

Follow these three steps to choose and use key words.

Take Small Steps to Persuade

Confucius said a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and, oddly enough, persuading people to accept an idea or take some action works the same way. The trick is to know what small steps to take.

In How To Argue With a Cat, rhetorical ninja Jay Heinrich says a persuader’s goal shouldn’t be to win an argument; it should be to use argument techniques to win over people. One such tool is likeability, or what psychologists call "affective presence". It's a matter of how a person makes others around them feel.

So, if you (or the speaker you write for) has to give a talk to a roomful of skeptical listeners, take these three small steps to increase the chances the audience will find you likeable.

Make A Good Impression on the Podium

If you have a long memory, you might remember a TV ad that reminded viewers “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” So, how can you help yourself (or the speaker you write for) pass that all-important test on the podium?

The key is to understand the way people judge others on a first encounter. American psychologist Amy Cuddy says we do it by asking ourselves two questions:

• Can I trust this person? and
• Can I respect this person?

In other words, Cuddy says we size up the people we meet based first on trust or “warmth”. Then we consider what she terms their “competence”.

Here are three things you can do to make a good impression when you give a speech or presentation. Read More...

Make Key Ideas Pop Like a Pub Poster

Nothing cuts to the chase faster than a pub food poster. After all, it has exactly one aim: to whet your appetite as a means of getting to your wallet. So, a good graphic designer isn’t going to let anything come between your eyes and your understanding of what the poster is all about.

Clarity is every bit as important when you write a speech or presentation. But, it’s harder to achieve. Speakers generally feel obligated to say more to an audience than the wings are good and they’re cheap: so buy ‘em. Plus, the topics and issues they want to communicate are usually more complex. The trick then is to make key points pop — so they’ll stand out and stick in listeners’ minds.

Use these three tips to do just that.

Rock Your Next Talk By Answering 5 "Essential" ?s

Convocation speakers can rarely resist the temptation to dispense advice to the gowned graduates in front of them. But, every once in a while, the ideas they share strike a chord with the world at large. Take the example of James Ryan, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He urged his listeners to stop and ask themselves five "essential" questions. The answers, he promised, would help them achieve success and fulfillment in life. Then, communications blogger Garr Reynolds wrote about Ryan's thought provoking questions, bringing them to a wider audience. Reading the article on Reynold's blog Presentation Zen, it occurred to me that answering the questions could also make a speech or presentation successful and fulfilling to the audience.

Here are the questions and some suggestions about how to apply them to a talk. Read More...

Think "Proud & Productive" When Writing & Delivering Employee Recognition Speeches

Summer may be a quiet time in many workplaces, but it’s also a time of great transition. People wrap up projects before they head off on vacation. Some leave to take on new assignments. Others retire. So it’s no surprise that managers and supervisors often find themselves on the hook to write and deliver employee recognition speeches. How well they do depends on the approach they take.

A tempting path is to string together some “nice” things to say about the person and leave it at that. But, with a bit of thought and planning, a speech to honour an employee can be a more meaningful experience for both the honouree and the audience.

The place to start is by looking at the occasion as an opportunity to reinforce employee engagement. Read More...

3 Presentation Tips From The Dragons' Den

“Hello Dragons.”  Does that opening line sound familiar?  If you’ve watched the CBC television show Dragons’ Den over the past 10 seasons you’ve heard countless inventors, entrepreneurs and dreamers utter those words. What comes next is the pitch each of them hopes will convince at least one Dragon to invest in their idea or product. But, as many discover, getting a deal is far from easy. The Dragons are tough to impress. They’ve all built enterprises from scratch and they know what it takes to succeed. Tracie Tighe, who has been the show’s executive producer since the start, says the people who make it on air get advice on how to hone their pitches to appeal to the Dragons. But, once the cameras start rolling, what happens next is up to them.  Read More...

3 Attention-Getting Tips From Copywriters

One of the biggest challenges to communicating with people is getting and holding their attention. Speech givers have an especially tough time. They have to shape their content to connect with and engage listeners in the here and now. Otherwise, their message falls on deaf ears. Copywriters live and die by their ability to win attention through words. Here are three copywriting tips you can use to keep your audience with you. Read More...