How to Get a Standing Ovation During Your Next Speech
Every executive wants to deliver speeches that impress audiences, but most corporate presentations are downright dull.
Here are three tips to help you beat the blahs and earn applause the next time you take the stage:
1. Focus on outcomes.
Former Eli Lilly speechwriter Rob Friedman warns that a presentation nottied to specific outcomes will be ineffective.
That’s why he advises against scripting a speech right away. Instead, first answer the question, “What exactly am I trying to accomplish?” For example, is it to sell, strengthen morale, defend an organization or offer a vision of the future?
Then ask, “What do I want my audience—employees, customers, investors or the public—to know, think, feel or do?”
Only when those are decided can you determine the information, arguments and supporting elements that will help your speech achieve your desired outcomes.
For example, Eli Lilly wanted its communications to build employee confidence that the future was bright despite declining revenue during Friedman’s last five years there.
“We focused our speeches on ‘reasons to believe’ in that future, including a sound strategy for survival and a pipeline of new Lilly medicines that would lead to growth in the future,” Friedman says.
As a result, confidence in senior leadership actually rose during the crisis.
2. Harness the power of numbers.
Statistics can be especially effective in speeches, because they crystallize abstract concepts into something concrete and tangible.
For example, Sheryl Sandberg asserted in a 2010 TED talk that, “Women are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world.”
She supported that claim with statistics showing that only nine of 190 heads of state are women, and that women make up just 15 percent of corporate executive positions worldwide.
The key is to find statistics most relevant to the argument you’re making, Friedman says. “It’s important to constantly be on the lookout for stats that jump out at you—and that make your point precisely and powerfully.”
It’s also important to put the statistic in context to ensure your audience understands the point you’re making, he says.
For example, if you say, “America’s total health care bill for 2014 was $3 billion”—you might wonder whether that’s high or low. Yet your audience will understand that the U.S is an outlier among developed nations if you follow with, “That’s more than the next 10 biggest spenders combined—Japan, Germany, France, China, the UK, Italy, Canada, Brazil, Spain and Australia.”
3. Embrace analogies.
Like numbers, analogies help us understand the world. “We make comparisons all the time to make the unfamiliar familiar and help us see the familiar in new ways,” Friedman says.
Analogies can be used three ways in presentations, Friedman says:
- To illustrate. Analogies can provide a lively, memorable way to say something that might otherwise be mundane. Forrest Gump’s “Life is like a box of chocolates,” quote is a perfect example.
- To persuade. “Analogy has a key function in persuasion by stating a likeness between two things and then getting an audience to agree to something that might not be obvious,” Friedman says.
He offers this example: In a recent letter to The Wall Street Journal, Dr. Lawrence Gage uses an analogy to counter the idea that we can prevent gun violence by effectively screening people with mental health problems. Gage states that cardiologists still can’t prevent sudden cardiac death despite decades of research, because many who succumb are not seen as high risk.
“Analogously,” Gage writes, “it is absurd to suggest that any conceivable set of ‘common-sense’ mental-health laws will identify, much less meaningfully detain, shooters before they kill.”
“Regardless of your feelings on the issue, you can see the power of the technique,” Friedman says. “If you agree with Gage’s first point, it’s hard not to be persuaded by his second.”
- To frame an entire speech. Malcom Gladwell once spent an entire TED talk titled “The Unheard Story of David and Goliath” providing new insights into the famous biblical story.
He offered the lesson of his analogy only in the last two lines of his talk: “Giants are not as strong and powerful as they seem,” Gladwell concluded. “And sometimes, the shepherd boy has a sling in his pocket