People often ask, “How do I make my speech interesting?”
For many speakers, it’s the uncertainty about just how interesting their speech is that sets their nerves jangling.
So if you can give your listeners something that’ll keep their attention piqued, you can dispel a few hundred butterflies worth of nerves into the bargain.
The usual advice
Whatever you’re promoting, selling or celebrating, here are some tried-and-trusted ways to keep your audience interested. I’m going to start with the obvious ones that you’ve probably heard a dozen times, then take you through some deeper ideas…
Tailor your speech to your audience
The more you know about your audience, the easier it is to write the sort of speech they’ll want to hear.
There are some obvious starting points. If it’s a wedding audience, you already know they’ll want to laugh good naturedly at the groom’s exploits and enjoy hearing some hitherto unheard stories about why this is going to be great marriage.
And if it’s a business speech, you know your audience will be invested in the product or service you’re talking to them about. Even if your subject might seem uninteresting to an outsider, a packed hall full of industry insiders will be interested in what you’ve got to say… provided you give them the sort of serious analysis or insight they’re looking for.
That makes your job easier. But you still need to do more…
Want to give an interesting speech? Then tell an interesting story
You might not think that every kind of speech will lend itself to being presented like a story.
But the ebb and flow of a good story, filled with surprises, hooks and dramatic pay-offs can make anything sound more interesting.
You don’t have to go OTT, just use a more illustrative approach…
Instead of talking about the struggles of the last year in an abstract way, tell a story that sums it up. Tell them about the junior colleague who came in early every day for a year and what he achieved. Or talk about the little extra things that individuals did that helped the company through tough times…
Write your speech with all the drama and surprise you can muster.
Interesting speeches address the full spectrum of human emotion
Funny speeches are good. So are emotional speeches. Combine the best of both and you’ve got the basis of a truly captivating speech.
But don’t stop there. There’s a whole range of emotional states for you to plunder.
Pile on the suspense, build some excitement, appeal to your audience’s sense of longing, and rouse their passion.
Make them care.
Interesting speeches are full of contrasts
Take a lesson from film and TV.
Film and programme makers like switching between different emotional states. Because they know the contrasts accentuate the drama. So, comedy heightens suspense, and pathos gives drama a harder edge.
You can do the same.
Give your audience the right emotional touch-points and they’ll stay fully engaged in the story you’re telling.
Think of your speech like a film script, full of contrasts.
Cutting quickly from something funny to something serious can seem jarring. But it is often amazingly effective.
For example, some of the best fundraising speeches take time to soften their audience up, before abruptly changing pace. This is why we’re here. This is why we need your help.
Pile on the pathos
Call it schmaltz. Call it emotional manipulation if you will. But filmmakers are very good at piling on the pathos. The lingering looks and last goodbyes; the slow-motion pullbacks and the soaring strings.
A little bit of pathos gives every story a bigger emotional impact. It works in speeches too. Often in the least likely places.
Think of a best man’s speech and you’ll think ‘funny’ first and foremost. But I assure you, the audience will laugh a whole lot harder when you butter them up with a bit of genuine emotion too.
First a big laugh. Then a quick-as-a-flash change of pace – and a bit of the heartfelt stuff.
Want to make your speech interesting? Learn how to make your audience sweat
There are lots of good ways to keep your audience on their toes. And lots of good reasons to do it…
Your job as orator is to keep your audience hanging on every word. Right to the end, if you possibly can. Sometimes that means you just have to pull out every trip in the speechwriter’s book.
Don’t make it too easy for your listeners.
Hint at your big takeaway points. Skirt around them. Build up to them. Use a little misdirection if it helps.
Use cliff-hangers between different parts of your speech.
Use dangling threads that you’ll return to later.
Do whatever it takes to keep your listeners actively engaged with your speech. The harder they focus, the more they’re going to really hear what you’ve got to say.
How to give facts more impact
On their own, facts can frequently bore an audience to tears. But, if you think carefully about what you say before weighing in with the facts, you’ll create a bigger appetite for the raw data.
A good way of doing that is to subvert your audience’s expectations…
For example, if you’re announcing a negligible increase in revenue, don’t just give them the numbers…
Prime your audience to expect the worst. Set the scene in bleak terms, suggest all the reasons you should have made a loss and then surprise them with the facts.
Suddenly they’ll sound a lot more interesting.
Interesting speeches are made of this…
Don’t miss an opportunity to surprise your audience.
If they’re used to PowerPoint presentations, talk to them instead.
If they’re expecting a litany of facts, get them emotionally invested in the context behind the facts first.
And above all, give them a speech they can feel. One that takes them on an interesting and unexpected journey to the facts.