Your audience wants you to make the next however many minutes of their lives interesting or entertaining in some way. But of course they’ll all have different criteria for being entertained.
You’ll need to challenge some of them, surprise others, and keep the rest of them awake…
The best way to deliver a speech they’ll really enjoy is to tailor your speech to your audience. There are several ways you can do that:
Judge the mood of the event
Good speeches often seem to intuitively know what the audience is thinking and feeling. It makes the speaker and the speech seem more empathetic and relevant.
(It also proves that good speeches are always very well prepared.)
So, judge your audience’s likely mood and expectations by the type of event, by the economic climate, by sales forecasts, retention rates… Use whatever data you’ve got at your disposal to pitch your speech right.
Choose the right style of speech for your audience.
You might be used to explaining your industry to non-industry friends and colleagues, but if you’re speaking to a roomful of industry peers, it’s safe to assume they know as much about your subject as you do.
They won’t take kindly to a spoon-feeding speech that talks down to them. They won’t want to hear a lot of things they already know.
If you have to say something that seems obvious, put a new spin on it. If you’re compelled to talk through data everyone’s heard before, try and find a fresh perspective on it.
And if you think there are going to be people who won’t understand everything you’re talking about, have some supplementary written information on hand for those who need it.
And don’t forget to leave time for questions at the end.
Choose an event-specific tone of voice
You can take a lot of direction from the type of event you’re speaking at. Obviously you’re going to address your family in a rather different way than you might speak to your board of directors. But there are subtler guidelines too:
Commemorative speeches, and fundraising speeches, and product launches, and every other kind of speech should all have their own particular feel.
You can be as aspirational, or nostalgic, or intriguing as you need, to make your audience respond in the ways you want.
Don’t be afraid to ‘work’ your audience a bit. Take them on an emotional roller-coaster ride if you have to. Do whatever it takes to keep them listening.
Use the right language
There’s a time for formality and there’s a time for a more relaxed approach. What will your audience really want from you?
Chances are, they’ll want to hear you speak in a way that makes you most comfortable.
Don’t overdo the formality. Don’t start saying ‘it is’ instead of ‘it’s’ or ‘we are’, instead of ‘we’re’. Try to speak as naturally as possible. It’ll make the occasion a lot less stressful for you.
There’s another benefit of toning down the formality. Whenever you need to add emphasis, you can step up the formality. The contrast will help key points stand out.
Do something different
Take a look at the event schedule. What are any other speakers talking about?
If you’re on the same bill as a lot of very technical sounding speeches, you might benefit from taking a looser approach.
If you’re occupying a graveyard slot (perhaps just before or after lunch), see what you can do to pep up your audience. Invite a bit more collaboration, or if possible, add a physical element to your speech.
Use the news
You’re not a social commentator or stand-up comedian. It isn’t your job to comment on everything that’s happening in the world and relate it back to your speech. But…
… Your speech doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If it’s pertinent to draw in the latest economic forecasts, do so. If a big news story gives you an ‘easy in’ to your speech, go ahead and use it.
Strip your speech down to its basic elements
Your speech has to work hard to.
Meet your objectives (promote, sell, amuse, inform…)
Meet your audience’s objectives (entertain, empower, teach, inspire…)
Deliver a desired outcome (better understanding, a clear sales pitch, a call to action…)
If your speech can do these three things, it’ll be a good speech.