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12 Things You Can Do To Deliver An Award-Winning Speech

12 Things You Can Do To Deliver An Award-Winning Speech

You could be called on to deliver a speech for a number of reasons: a wedding, a work function, a pitch for your startup, but whatever the occasion, you want that speech to blow the audience away. Based on my experience teaching public speaking at Carnegie Mellon University, here are 12 things you can do to give an award-winning speech.

1. Tell a Story

Unless you’re getting a masters in statistics, you probably don’t get all hot and bothered when someone starts quoting numbers to you. When we’re putting speeches together, we naturally think to include as many facts and details as possible, but most of the time, the audience doesn’t care that much about the specifics.

If you want to be memorable and keep your audience’s attention, you need to tell a story. That means having a quick introduction, including some rising action and suspense to a climax, and diminishing action to a resolution. You want to take them on a journey with you as you’re speaking to be truly captivating.

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2. Suit Up

Okay, it doesn’t have to be a suit. But you need to look good. People will naturally take you more seriously and believe you more if you’re well dress and present yourself as being very put together, so it’s important to consider how you appear to the audience. As much as 70% of communication is nonverbal, so as much as you want your words to be spot on, you need to look the part as well.

3. Know Your Audience

You wouldn’t say the same things to a group of entrepreneurial college students and to a group of 50–70 year old veteran lawyers. It’s necessary to know who you’ll be speaking to and what their interests are. You want your story to appeal to what they care about; don’t just assume they’ll just be interested and pay attention to you because you’re speaking. You have to empathize and connect with them.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

Very few people can wing a speech and do it well. Just ask Michael Bay. If you want to really blow your audience away, you need to make sure you have your speech down cold. This means not only practicing it a few times, but practicing it in a few different locations as well (to decrease the influence of locational cues) and ideally having some distractions in the environment. Also, be sure you can get through it without slides (if you’re using any) just in case something goes terribly wrong.

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5. Test Your Setup

Tech can, and will, fail on you. You never know when you’ll get to a presentation and the projector won’t work with your computer, or you’ll have sent the wrong format presentation, or any number of other errors. The only way to avoid this is to show up early and make sure that everything you’ll be depending on works.

That covers some of the main things you should think about before the speech; now here’s what to be sure of during it.

6. … Pause

Pausing does three things for your speech. First, it adds dramatic effect. A pause leaves people hanging as they wait for what you’re going to say next. Second, it makes you sound more intelligent and thoughtful. And third, it helps you avoid using filler words like “uh” and “um,” which we most frequently use while we think of what to say next. A pause fills the same function.

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7. Articulate

When we have day-to-day conversations, we generally speak in a faster more relaxed way. We slur some of our words, use shortcuts, and keep it casual. This doesn’t work in giving a speech though—if you want to be heard and understood, you need to speak clearly and articulate your words more than you would normally. This means speaking a bit slower, making sure you don’t trail off at the ends of sentences, and watching the audience to see if anyone looks like they can’t understand you.

8. Keep Eye Contact

This is the best way to connect with each individual person in the audience. It doesn’t have to be for longer than a couple seconds, but if you make an effort to make eye contact with as many people as possible, it will help them feel much more engaged with you as a speaker. If you never make eye contact with them, they’ll be much less involved in the speech, so definitely don’t look at the back wall or just look at their foreheads. It has to be real eye contact.

9. Stay Facing Forwards

Just because everyone else is looking at your PowerPoint doesn’t mean that you have to as well. The minute you turn around and start talking toward your slides, you tell the audience to stop looking at you and just read off of the screen for themselves. It also tells them you didn’t prepare for the speech, so avoid looking at your slides as much as possible.

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10. Use Your Hands

Many people don’t know what to do with their hands while speaking, because we normally don’t need to think about it in day-to-day conversation. This results in ridiculous hand waving, wringing, hiding them in your pockets, and all sorts of other bad stuff. You never want to do anything unintentional with your hands—you want them to do intentional gestures that back up what you’re saying. Practice making effective gestures until you have a repertoire you can use to enhance your speech.

11. Project

Obviously your speech won’t be memorable if no one can hear you. Getting projection right is largely a result of practice, but you can also gauge the audience to figure out how you’re doing. If the people in the back are leaning forward they are probably having a hard time hearing you, and if the people in the front look terrified you’re probably yelling at them. Adjust accordingly.

12. Show Confidence

Finally, your audience will base a lot of their beliefs about the strength of your speech on their impressions of your strength as a person. If you appear confident and sure of yourself, they’ll believe what you’re saying and believe it’s a good speech. If you’re slouched, covering your chest, shuffling back and forth, and not making eye contact, they will pick up on it and you’ll lose their interest. Be sure to project confidence in not only your speaking, but your body language.

If you can incorporate these 12 things into your preparation and speeches, I’m confident that you can reliably give an award-winning speech.

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Nat Eliason

Writer and Host of Nat Chat

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Last Updated on June 26, 2020

10 Things To Remember When Everything Goes Wrong

10 Things To Remember When Everything Goes Wrong

Problems and heartaches in life are inevitable. However, there are some things to remember when you’re right in the thick of it that can help you get through it. When everything seems to be going wrong, practice telling yourself these things.

1. This Too Shall Pass

Sometimes life’s rough patches feel like they’re going to last forever. Whether you’re dealing with work-related issues, family problems, or stressful situations, very few problems last for a lifetime. So remind yourself, that things won’t be this bad forever.

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2. Some Things are Going Right

When things are going wrong, it’s hard to recognize what is going right. It’s easy to screen out the good things and only focus on the bad things. Remind yourself that some things are going right. Purposely look for the positive, even if it is something very small.

3. I Have Some Control

One of the most most important things to remember is that you have some control of the situation. Even if you aren’t in complete control of the situation, one thing you can always control is your attitude and reaction. Focus on managing what is within your control.

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4. I Can Ask for Help

Asking for help can be hard sometimes. However, it’s one of the best ways to deal with tough situations. Tell people what you need specifically if they offer to help. Don’t be afraid to call on friends and family and ask them for help, whether you need financial assistance, emotional support, or practical help.

5. Much of This Won’t Matter in a Few Years

Most of the problems we worry about today won’t actually matter five years from now. Remind yourself that whatever is going wrong now is only a small percentage of your actual life. Even if you’re dealing with a major problem, like a loved one’s illness, remember that a lot of good things are likely to happen in the course of a year or two as well.

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6. I Can Handle This

A lack of confidence in handling tough times can add to stress. One of the best things to remember is that you can handle tough situations. Even though you might feel angry, hurt, disappointed, or sad, it won’t kill you. You can get through it.

7. Something Good Will Come Out of This

No matter how bad a situation is, it’s almost certain that something good will come out of it. At the very least, it’s likely that you will learn a life lesson. Perhaps you learn not to repeat the same mistake in the future or maybe you move on from a bad situation and find something better. Look for the one good thing that can result when bad things happen.

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8. I Can Accept What’s Out of my Control

There are many things that aren’t within your control. You can’t change the past, another person’s behavior, or a loved one’s health issues. Don’t waste time trying to force others to change or trying to make things be different if it isn’t within your control. Investing time and energy into trying to things you can’t will cause you to feel helpless and exhausted. Acceptance is one of the best way to establish resilience.

9. I Have Overcome Past Difficulties

One of the things to remember when you’re facing difficulties, is that you’ve handled problems in the past. Don’t overlook past difficulties that you’ve dealt with successfully. Remind yourself of all the past problems you’ve overcome and you’ll gain confidence in dealing with the current issues.

10. I Need to Take Care of Myself

When everything seems to be going wrong, take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest, get some exercise, eat healthy, and spend some time doing leisure activities. When you’re taking better care of yourself you’ll be better equipped to deal with your problems.

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Featured photo credit: NeONBRAND via unsplash.com

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