A speech is not a solo act - a speech is a conversation.
While only one party may be verbally communicating, all parties are communicating. Looking away, shaking one’s head, raising one’s brow, disinterest or a face anchored in stoicism are all forms of communication, and are all part of a conversation. Smiling, nodding, clapping, cheering and riveted attentiveness are also part of a conversation. Walking out of a conference room and doing nothing is also part of the conversation – usually the end of it.
So what can one do to ensure that a speech or presentation is in fact a productive conversation? Here are just a few ways:
1) Involve your audience – Do not talk at the audience, speak with them.
2) Pay attention to personal pronouns- I tend to shy away from using a lot of I and me and focus more on we and us as much as possible
3) I mean really involve your audience -When I am presenting on communication or rhetoric, I occasionally involve an audience very early – by asking a question to one or two participants right away. I might do it in the middle of the speech. Not a confrontational question. Not a heavy question. Very rarely a controversial question. Usually a question to generate a very short response.
Here is an example: If I am giving a presentation on the need for expediency in speech, I might pick someone out and ask - ”How would you feel if I told you this presentation was going to last 50 minutes? How about 5 minutes?” Or “At what point in a presentation do you start tuning the presenter out?” It appears to be spontaneous but it is anything but that; it is a calculated move to engage the audience, raise attentiveness and take the conversation to the next level.
Every speech matters and has an impact – not always a favorable one, but always some impact (even if the impact is that no one will want to witness the speaker again!)
For those who still believe speeches don’t matter, elected officials on both sides of the aisle have proven that to be false in the last ten days, as most of our retirement accounts can attest.