Knowing how to begin a speech or talk is often a challenge for my clients. What do I say first, how many main points should I cover? What is a good way to end?Question and Answer

When I coach participants how to develop a good talk, I teach the 5 steps which take them along a journey to get to the content and approach of the talk. And then I watch them developing a strategy towards a clear theme: They first decide what their broad goal is, then cut it down to one central theme and then apply the power statement-method. After that it boils down to brainstorming the 3 to 5 main points for the content and finally, they do a bit of creative thinking on how to make each point interesting. Add to that a catchy introduction and they are well on their way to deliver an outstanding presentation!

I attended the inauguration of a non-profit organization which assists unemployed people learn skills and find job opportunities. What a pleasure to listen to the opening speeches! The first speaker, the chairperson of the Board, presented a striking start: He smiled warmly and took time to connect with the audience by looking at us! The audience felt his sincerity. It was as if he spoke to each person in the room. And he applied all the techniques an outstanding speech needs, quite naturally: The content had good structure, there was plenty of eye contact, he used varying voice dynamics, the speech had something for the head and something for the heart... What a pleasure!

The second speech was just as impressive: The speaker spoke right from his heart, sharing why he loved what the organisation was doing. More importantly, he shared how the organisation assisted men to change their lives for the better. It was a speech with 'snot en trane' (as the Afrikaans people would say for something very emotional). Authentic, good to listen to!

The way you say things is as important as what you say.

Even the most inspiring, and powerful message can sound flat if you fail to ignite your listeners’ passion through how you say it.

Here are a few strategies:

Remember to accentuate what you say: 

  • Decide which word or phrase you want to accentuate in a sentence.  Underline or highlight it.  Then, when you speak, using your voice, place the emphasis on that word or phrase.

To avoid monotony, intonate:

  • Your voice can be loud or soft, high-pitched, or a low-pitched. You can speak fast or slowly.  When you don’t not use these variations, you sound monotonous. You don’t want to sound as if you are reading your speech.  Find the one word or phrase in each sentence that is the key point.  Use your voice to ‘carving’ out the meaning of the sentence clearly.

William James, an American psychologist and philosopher, (1842 - 1910) said,

The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated.

My husband and I attended a family workshop last Saturday. The facilitator had just developed this workshop and it was the first time that she presented her workshop to a group of friends. She had asked the small audience to evaluate her presentation and provide suggestions for improvement. Boy, and did they shoot her down. Hey, all of us can improve, but there is lots we do right, don't you think? It reminded me of the power that words have.