10 Rules to Follow Before Giving a Speech

3 minute read
Parrish is the entrepreneur and wisdom seeker behind Farnam Street and the host of The Knowledge Project Podcast, where he focuses on turning timeless insights into action. His new book is Clear Thinking: Turning Ordinary Moments Into Extraordinary Results

From 5 tips to present like Steve Jobs and what you can do in the first 60 seconds of a presentation to aid your ability to persuade to the art of telling stories through presentations, we’ve talked a lot about presentations.

To this growing pool of advice we can add Seymour Schulich’s Ten Rules to Utilize found in Get Smarter: Life and Business Lessons:

1. Be Brief:

People’s attention span is limited. Nobody ever complained about a speech being too short! Tell your audience right up front how long the speech is going to run. This signals how long they’ll have to pay attention.

2. Try to communicate one main idea:

A common mistake is trying to pack into a speech four or five ideas. People are likely to remember only one idea, theme, or concept.

3. Create a surprise:

People love to be surprised. As I got older, I always used the concept of surprise. Examples are:
(A) having your entrance and exit marked by exciting folk songs or music;
(B) saying something like, “This a serious speech—above all there will be no clowning around.” Then have twelve clowns enter the room, making noise, handing out cards, and leaving in ninety seconds;
(C) instead of clowns, have a group of cheerleaders burst in and lead a cheer for an honoured guest.

4. Use humour:

Collect joke books and select three or four good one-liners or zingers. Comedy is very hard to do well. Test your material on several people in advance. Personalize jokes by inserting the names of prominent people in the audience into the comedy material. This creates a sense of participation and identification by the audience.

5. Slow it down:

Talk slowly and mark lots of points to pause. Give the audience time to comprehend and assimilate your messages. There’s nothing worse than a speaker who rushes through a script he reads.

6. Use cue cards and look up often:

Don’t appear to read your material. Make protracted eye contact with your audience. Talk with them, don’t read to them.

7. Self-praise is no honour:

Get a good two-minute lead-in from someone who tells your audience why you’re very important and why they should listen to you.

8. Never speak before the main course in a dinner speech:

Don’t get between people and their food. (The same principle applies to dogs.)

9. Reuse good material:

Write a good speech then keep finding new audiences on which to utilize all or parts of it.

10. Use positive body language:

Smile, and use your hands to make and emphasize points. Get out from behind the podium if possible.

Get Smarter: Life and Business Lessons is full of life advice from one of Canada’s most successful businessmen.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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