An important idea. A full load of content that you really want to deliver to the audience. Limited time.
These are the typical characteristics of a lot of the presentations we give. The combination of these elements may create a risk: in our desire to convey every bit of our message, we get anxious. We write a long speech, we talk too fast, we completely forget about the audience. It almost looks like they are not even there: they have to take our content, and please shut up.
Of course, this is not the best way to build a link between us and our audience. As I mentioned in a previous post, some of our behaviours can break the connection with the audience. But luckily there are also some devices we can use to actively build the connection – for example, using examples.
How to Speak like a Leader
Here you have one of my favourite TEDx talks – possibly THE absolute favourite about public speaking. In 2016 professional speechwriter, Simon Lancaster gave this presentation at TEDx Verona. The talk explains six rhetorical techniques that we should learn to use when we speak, and to identify when others speak. Lancaster’s main objective is to make the audience reconsider the importance of an education in rhetoric.
In the entire talk, Lancaster employs the same techniques he is explaining. He continuously refers to the rules while he is using them – to build the same sentences with which he explains them.
Are you feeling my passion? You should, because I am a speechwriter, and I know how to make a point.
But he also chooses some of the examples to help to foster audience engagement. And he does it without diluting his message and, most of all, without using too much of his precious time.
Customize the Examples
After a humorous anecdote at the very beginning, Lancaster works on audience engagement immediately in the first points of the speech. At 3:20, to explain the rule of three, he uses the sentence: “Mangia bene, ridi spesso, ama molto” (Eat well, laugh often, love much). The audience obviously appreciates his effort to speak Italian and welcomes it with an applause. An applause that he called for, with the body language he uses to frame this quote.
After few seconds, betweek 4:00 and 4:40, he chooses other three examples from the history of the city of Verona, where he is giving the talk. The last one is referring directly to the event where he is speaking, which is even more effective to make the audience (and the organizers) feel acknowledged.
Let Them Pick
After appealing to the audience in the first part of the speech, he continues with the explanation for about ten minutes. Moving towards the conclusion, he wants to wrap up the list of rhetorical techniques and get back the full attention of the audience, before shooting out the final message.
To do this, he plans one last example: jamming an impromptu speech, using all the techniques he has just listed. The topic of this impromptu mini-speech? He makes the audience choose it. From 14:27 to 15:00, he gives the room time to suggest a topic, and also to clarify it (“for or against”). This trick has two powerful consequences. First, it proves that the speech is actually improvised. Second, it throws the audience back in the speech: their contribution is not only appreciated, but necessary for the speech to continue.
If we want to keep our audience interested, we shall actively engage them in the speech. Still, we may think we don’t have enough time to both explain our message AND create connection. To kill two birds with a stone, we can use elements that we would already include in the speech for other purposes, and give them additional meaning – by customizing them for our public. As we see in Simon Lancaster’s talk, whether we make them choose or we choose for them, we can use examples to build connection with the audience.
(Image by John Towner on Unsplash)