The Art of Speaking – Part 2

The Art of Speaking

Who Cares?

When delivering a speech, just remember that because you’re the boss or someone of note, doesn’t mean people will sit up and listen.

When preparing a presentation, a good starting point is to ask: ‘Why should anyone care about what I have to say?’ This can help focus on what your speech aims to accomplish. In business, it is often about increasing performance through engagement. In which case, remember Guy Kawasaki’s words:

The goal is to provide inspiring information that moves people to action.”

In Brief

It’s been said that you should be able to plan a mountaineering expedition on the back of a fag packet. ‘K2, north ridge, team of 4, fast & light, summer 2018’. And it’s a decent analogy when planning a speech.

If you had just three minutes to speak, ask yourself what would you say. Cutting to the chase helps distinguish between what is crucial and what’s nice to have.

When I run speaking workshops, I often ask people to do the first three minutes of their talk: it makes them focus on the key message and get a feel for pace.

Structured Approach

Use a plan with an introduction, followed by three to five acts and a conclusion. This will help you stay on message and allows you to allocate time to each element. Memorise slides or keywords as triggers for the next act.

Good introduction

I always recommend being very clear about your opening. It is an opportunity to connect to the audience immediately, and can also help overcome nerves. By all means link to the previous speaker, but don’t paraphrase their material. The audience wants to hear what you have to say.

On their side

Establishing empathy with the audience from the outset helps you connect: let them know that you know how hard they work and how unsettling all the changes are. If you can, use an anecdote to illustrate this and don’t be afraid to show you are human.


I have seen several speakers borrow images from outside their own world to great effect. For example, a group of cyclists to show the concept of individuals with distinct roles working for each other, or a bridge being built slowly between islands to illustrate the process of change.

Data overload

Some talks necessitate more detail and substance than others, but don’t use a speaking slot as a data dump or a place to over analyse figures. Instead, focus on some key findings and use infographics to present information easily, especially if you’re speaking is at the end of the day! And, if you have a particularly long slot, then short videos can help keep energy levels high.

Every second counts

Audiences respect speakers that stick to time. Always rehearse your talk and time it. Use a slide advance with vibration timer if you are concerned.

At General Electric’s leadership event in Florence last year, the best speaker performed for just 10 minutes and used only three slides. I can still remember every point he made.

Show you care

If you are passionate, you are already most of the way there!


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