Talking about yourself can help enhance your career, persuade a business group of your capabilities and entertain an audience. This might take the form of a minute-long elevator speech designed to tell a specific individual about your core strengths or an extended talk before a large business audience about how you got to be the success you are today. Regardless of the specific purpose of your speech, following a few techniques can help you make the most of your opportunity.
Make the Most of the Opening
You’ll have your audience’s attention when you start your speech, but can lose it in a hurry unless you start off strong. If you’re making a long speech, be creative. Start with an anecdote that amuses, touches or informs the audience to humanize you and draw it into your story. For a short speech, get to the point quickly by saying why you’re there and how your speech about yourself is relevant. It’s fine to acknowledge the introduction if you got one, or thank the speakers for inviting you, but do it in a sentence or two and then get on with your speech.
Audiences are looking for a path and a destination from a speaker. Sometimes, this might be chronological – taking you from childhood to the present day. Other times, there might be a different progression, such as a speech designed to tell others how you came to start your current business. Regardless of what your particular speech is intended to do, make sure each element relates to that goal. Falling off track with irrelevant anecdotes may be a fun trip down memory lane for you, but your audience likely won’t be as interested.
Know Your Audience
Your speech has to meet audience expectations and needs. Determine why the audience members have come together, what they already know and what they’re hoping to get out of your speech. This helps you write content that meets those needs. In general, for a business audience you want to be uplifting and informative.
You should also determine what you want to get out of the speech – whether it’s simply positive feedback or something more tangible like increased business contacts or social networking opportunities. If you’re looking for the audience to react in a specific way, write your speech in a way that accentuates that message.
Showing audience members something that illustrates your point can be more effective than simply telling them. Talking about signing your first business deal might draw casual interest, but holding up a pen and saying, “with this 25-cent device, I signed my name and changed my life forever” has a bigger impact. Write your speech with that potential in mind. Use props early in your speech, however, particularly if the audience can see them. If you bring up a baseball bat and wait until your conclusion to say what its significance is, your audience may spend its time wondering about that rather than focusing on your speech.
J. Lyman MacInnis, author of “The Elements of Great Public Speaking," advises, “Giving an audience exactly what it expects is like passing out sleeping pills.” Add some variety to your delivery and tone of voice. Ask rhetorical questions – like “what would you have done if faced with this choice?” – before answering from your experience. This engages the audience and involves members in your story.
Leave your audience with your desired message by repeating your strongest points. If you’re giving a long speech, go back to these core points at regular intervals to keep everyone focused on your message. Close your speech with a reminder of what you’re hoping they’ve taken away from your speech. This could be a call to action or a reinforcement of how your personal history can impact their lives. Watch your time and make sure you’re not in a position where you’re speaking beyond your allotted period or having to rush your finish.
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