No one Â wants to deliver a boring speech so it probably comes as no surprise that one of the biggest challenges related to public speaking is to make a speech or presentation more interesting. Each time I teach my “Overcome your fear of public speaking” class, “boring the audience” is one of the things attendees share that they fear most.
The good news is that there are a few ways to make a speech more interesting and they simply require a little extra planning up front. So let’s look at three things we can do to make a speech more interesting.
1. Research your audience:
You’ve probably heard it a million times, but spending a little bit of time trying to get to know your audience will help you tremendously when you give your speech. Just like in conversation, when you know more about the people you’re talking to, you can speak to their needs more easily. And when you speak to your audience’s needs, you engage them better.
As part of your speech preparation, ask the following questions about your audience:
- Why are they gathered together?
- What are they hoping to gain by listening to the speech?
- What common interests do they have?
- What are some recent events that the audience is interested in?
If you’re unable to answer these questions, try asking the person who invited you to speak. You can also get some good information by working the room prior to your talk, but keep in mind that you’ll have limited time to work with what you learn. What you’re looking for are things to relate the key points from your speech to. Just like you want to state your qualifications during a job interview in a manner that interests the company, you want your points and examples to resonate with your audience. If you’re speaking to a corporate audience, try to relate your topic to that company’s culture, products or industry. If you’re speaking to an organization, tie your points into the organization’s events and activities.
2. Paint a picture:
Many speakers make the mistake of presenting raw data such as statistics in a manner that the audience can’t relate to. They say things like “you’ll increase sales by 50%” or “600,000 people are suffering from this ailment.” Numbers are especially difficult for people to conceptualize so here are some examples of ways to describe numbers:
- Saying that taking a particular action will increase sales by 8.5% is less effective than saying that it’s like giving you an extra month’s worth of revenue each year.
- Instead of saying 400,000 people die from a certain disease each year, say that it’s like two 747 jets full of people crashing every day.
Along the same lines, be descriptive about the things you’re talking about. Don’t describe just what you want the audience to imagine visually, touch upon all five senses. Talk about the sounds, the tastes and the smells. Include how you feel, both inside and out. Maybe you’re describing your first visit to a big city so you talk about the sounds of cars scrambling through traffic, the smell from a nearby hotdog vendor or the feeling of the hot sun on your neck. The big caveat is to not overdo it and get into every detail on something that is only a small part of your talk.
3. Tell a story:
It’s great to give people useful information during your talk, but if you’re simply reciting advice, it’s likely that the audience will tune out. Instead, try to tell a story or a series of stories to illustrate each point. Each story should be relevant to the point you’re trying to make and should not be overly elaborate. The basic formula is that your story should show the audience that taking the action you suggest will provide them with a result that they want. In other words, you’re illustrating your point.
For example, a commencement speaker might want to explain that toughing it out in the early part of your career will lead to success later on. The speaker can simply say “it worked for me” and then move on to the next point, but that’s not exciting. Instead, he or she can talk about the long hours, the financial struggles and the tight schedules that he or she experienced. Perhaps there’s a story about falling asleep at his/her desk one night and not waking up until the next morning. Or maybe there’s a story about ducking the landlord to get another few days to pay the rent. These stories drive the point home since the audience can visualize the speaker asleep at a desk or hiding behind a curtain to avoid the landlord.
The level of detail depends on the situation. Major points can be backed up by more elaborate or multiple stories where smaller points can be backed up in a sentence or two. Leave out parts of the story that are irrelevant to your point and if you can use a short story to make one of your important points, go for it.
All in all, making a speech interesting really just takes a little creativity and some work. You may need to experiment with different techniques to figure out what works best for you. Some people are naturally good at stories while others are quick to make connections between their talks and the audience’s situation. Lastly, keep in mind that there is such a thing as a dull audience and audiences that have just consumed food, alcohol or have already endured several hours of talks may have a difficult time being interested in any talk.