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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 March 14, 2019

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

How it helps you:

If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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How it helps you:

Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

How it helps you:

This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

How it helps you:

One word: hierarchy.

All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

How it helps you:

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Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

6. What do you like about working here?

This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

How it helps you:

You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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How it helps you:

What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

Making Your Interview Work for You

Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

More Resources About Job Interviews

Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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