Break These Rules for Better Public Speaking

For audience members, typical is boring. Watching a performer take risks is exciting. The best of the best break the rules. However, they don’t break the rules just to break the rules. They break the rules to make the show better, to advance a story, to raise the stakes, to get you to sit up and take notice.

Here are a few rules that you can break. OK, maybe they’re not rules but they are certainly typical conventions.

  1. No need to say, “I’m going to tell you a story.” Instead, just tell the story. If you’re hosting an event, no need to say, “I’ve got some housekeeping to cover.” The word housekeeping tells the audience to stop listening. Instead, find a way to make the directions to the restrooms sound like an adventure and the info about that evening’s party sound like a … well … party.
  2. Definitely no need to say, “I’m happy to be here.” If you’re not happy to be there why would you be there? Instead, show them you are by giving a fantastic performance. If you’re giving a speech to your Alma mater where you earned 1.1 grade point average the first semester of your freshman year that’s different. If that’s the case, you can say, “I’m happy to be here because…” and then tell that that story.
  3. No need to say, “ Let’s get started.” The second you are introduced the presentation starts so by the time you’re on stage, you’ve already started.

Generally, speakers spend too much time on “filler” material. As a result, audiences often expect a speaker to waste the first five or ten minutes so they stay on their phones or computers. The polite ones, the ones who put away their devices, get annoyed waiting for you to “start.” Instead, get on with the show.

This is why shows like The Good Wife, Breaking Bad, etc. don’t start with a title sequence with theme music. Over the years, viewers became programed to tune in late. They knew they wouldn’t miss anything important, just the opening credits. However, if the opening of the show sets the stage, revealing the most important elements of the plot line, the audience will show up on time, if not early, and be hooked from the start.

Cut everything from your speech that isn’t absolutely necessary to entertain, teach, show, provoke or move an audience. Just like writing, performing is often about cutting out the fat. If you do streamline, you might start to think about your public speaking as putting on a show, rather than giving a speech. Big difference.

 

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