How to Be an Amazing Speaker and Always Know Your Place

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“The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public.”
George Jessel


“It is so hard for me to learn the speech I’ve written. Even though I know my stuff, I still lose my place when speaking.”

This comment is a very common issue I encounter in my speech coaching practice. It is one that many speakers struggle to eliminate, many without a lot of success. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I understand your frustration and would like to offer you the following three pieces of advice to help you become an amazing speaker and always know your place:

  1. Don’t Write that Speech
  2. Write for the eye, speak for the ear
  3. Don’t Memorize, Familiarize

Don’t Write That Speech

Recently I received the manuscript of a 40-minute speech that was written in full prose. It was 9 pages long, single spaced, and over 4500 words long. The speaker had talked to me about having difficulty being able to learn, remember and execute all of the content. Part of the anxiety existed around not wanting to miss “some really great lines’ that were written.

Here’s my Tip #1. Don’t write your speech!

I never write a speech. Occasionally, in the context of my notes, I may write a complete sentence. But, shortly after working on the speech, I have reduced the sentence to a key word or two.

So, what do you do if you can’t write a speech? Create it in an outline.

An outline is a highly valuable tool for a speaker. Using an outline makes you focus on the gist of your content. An effective outline has two parts: format and content.

Most speeches follow a basic outline style with a small element added to achieve a desired effect. Other speeches have specific outlines designed to address the occasion of the speech. The key in any outline is to follow the prescribed format, concentrating your content on the key words and phrases you’ll need to know to deliver your speech. Following and practicing a speech based on an outline will also help you to remember the order and substance of your content.

When you write out a speech in its entirety, you may have a tendency to write it in essay style. This creates two problems for you as a speaker. First, you will fall in love with the lovely words and phrases you’ve written. Second, you will try to remember the essay. Remember, your goal is to be an amazing speaker, not an amazing reader.

Both of these problems lead me to Tip #2.

Write for the Eye, Speak for the Ear

You’re no doubt aware that some people learn better by reading and some by hearing. How do you learn best?

When we speak, we are tasked with making everybody learn best by hearing. That’s not as easy as it sounds. Here’s why.

When we write, we write for the eyes. When a person reads it is a solitary experience. The reader sets the pace, pausing where and when it is necessary in order to maximize understanding of the written material. If the reader doesn’t get it, they can stop. Reread it. Look up a word or term they don’t understand. With the written word, the reader is in total control.

In speaking, the circumstance is very different. During a speech the audience is a collective noun. One entity with many ears and disparate brains all experiencing speaker driven and delivered content with the intent of increasing their understanding of new concept or process.

The speaker’s solution for this challenge is to adhere to a practice of repetition that has proven itself effective in all settings. I like to call this repetition method, “The 3 T’s”. It exists as a basic communications tenet of advertising, commercials, and really effective communicators. The 3 T’s, designed to increase the effectiveness of what you say to your audience, are as follows:

  1. Tell the them you are going to tell them
  2. Tell them
  3. Tell them you’ve told them

Most beginning speakers react negatively to this formula. They feel, “all of this repetition just insults my audiences’ intelligence.” In truth, nothing insults an audience more than a speaker who just barrels on about something without taking the time to adequately prepare the audience to receive their content. This is what The 3 T’s looks like in a basic speech outline.

Click here to download The 3 T's

Click here to download The 3 T's

Don’t Memorize, Familiarize

Earlier in this piece I wrote about the difficulty many speakers encounter when they write out their speech and then try to memorize it. All of that added anxiety, and for what?

When you create a speech your speaking goal is to effectively convey a central message and key supporting points to your audience. How you say it is important, but not critical.

Working within an outline will help you to hone in on that central point and be able to say it in a variety of ways. By doing this, you will become spontaneous and fluent in the expression of what you want your audience to take away from your speech. The outline will help you to develop and familiarize yourself with that main point as well as the supporting points you plan to cover. And, because the outline provides a graphic/textual order to the flow of your speech, it will help you to remember the order of the material you plan to cover as well.

“Familiarity does not breed contempt, it breeds content.”
Don E. Smith

It's all about planned spontaneity. About being able to sound more conversational and less like a computer, rotely spewing out memorized data without feeling or connection to your audience.

Memorization brings an unnecessary level of anxiety into play. I believe it is the #2 cause of speaker anxiety. In most situations, a speaker will only deliver their content one or two times. I would much rather listen to a well-organized, practiced, and connected speaker who is comfortable referring to their notes, than someone who tried to memorize their content but ends up apologizing over and over again for missing or forgetting sections of their speech. By the way, most audiences would too!

It’s a safe bet that if you follow the three pieces of advice that I have shared in this blog, 1) Don’t Write that Speech, 2) Write for the eye, speak for the ear, and 3) Don’t Memorize, Familiarize you Will Be an Amazing Speaker and Always Know Your Place.

Please feel free to share this post with a friend or colleague. As always, share your comments on this post or suggestions in the comments section below.

To Your Speaking Success.
The Speech Wiz