If you’ve ever delivered a speech at a conference, you’ll know how daunting a prospect it can be. On entering the room, you’re simply met with a sea of faces, all staring expectantly, waiting for you to either inform, entertain or slip up.
It’s a nerve-wracking experience for anyone, from the shy and retiring to those who seemingly ooze confidence with every sentence. Public speaking simply isn’t a natural thing, and for most of us, it isn’t something we do day-in, day-out.
Sometimes, however, it’s the speaking requirements a little closer to home that are the hardest to overcome. Your own wedding, for instance, is an example of an event where, if you’re the groom, you have to stand up and talking lovingly about your new partner in front of a room full of people you know. Again, it’s unnatural, staged and requires a significant degree of confidence to get right.
Just like the fabled wedding speech, a talk you’re asked to give to a bunch of colleagues – be it the entire company or a single department – isn’t always something to be relished. You may be delivering bad news (“sorry, no pay rises this year!”) or detailing a new corporate strategy, but whatever it is you’re asked to relay, you’ll need to do so in an engaging, confident fashion.
In this blog, we’re going to list a fool-proof, ten step process that will help you prepare for that speech to colleagues. You know, the one you really don’t want to give.
You can do this!
1. Remind yourself of the purpose
Reminding yourself of the reason for standing up in front of your colleagues is the perfect place to start. To get your head in gear, think about why they need to hear from you. Is it good or bad news? How will it impact them? Will it be a significant change that will make a massive difference to their working lives, or is it a simple company update?
Keep thinking about the purpose throughout your planning – it’ll help frame the talk and ensure you deliver it in the most appropriate manner.
2. Consider the audience
Who will be in the room? Remember – delivering a marketing proposal to the management team is markedly different to providing shop floor staff with details about the Christmas opening hours.
When giving a speech to colleagues, you have a brilliant advantage; you know them. And, while you may not know them all inside out, you will at least know of those who are likely to be either problematic or particularly engaged.
With an understanding of individual personalities and the responsibilities of the people in your audience, knowledge is power – use it to your advantage.
3. Gather all evidence and facts
Regardless of what it is you need to say, there will be one or two key facts or pieces of evidence that you’ll need within your arsenal. A number that backs up a particular claim, or the real-life results of a specific project are vital assets you can call on to give your speech credibility.
Make sure you have plenty of additional statistics on hand too, just in case you encounter questioning that will benefit from their presence.
4. Write a story – not a speech
If you follow the A-Z guide of speech writing, you’ll end up with something incredibly dull. This is why the best public speakers tell stories. Why? Because we all love a story.
Create a beginning, middle and end, and, even if you’re recounting the latest financial results, tell it with passion and verve.
5. Highlight the pertinent stuff
Chances are, come the big day, you won’t actually read your speech verbatim – it’ll be a recap of the most important sections. To avoid being distracted by countless paragraphs, write instead in bullet point form and highlight the pertinent stuff you absolutely don’t want to leave out.
6. Prep responses to tricky questioning
Chances are, you will get the odd tricky question. Thinking back to your audience preparation (see no. 2), consider who might perform the business equivalent of heckling and try and work out which area they’ll poke fun at.
With that knowledge in hand, note down a few answers, again turning to your facts and figures. Then, come the day, if that person does speak up, all you’ll need to do is flick to the page in question (although you’ll likely find such answers reside in your memory, enabling you to supply a super-fast response).
7. Create an opening that has impact
Go in big! By now, you’ll have outlined the story, so it’s time to focus on the most important part – the opening.
You have limited time to engage everyone in the room, so you need to ensure the first few seconds of your speech have real impact. Start with a startling statistic, or a quote from a customer. Surprise them with a question. Do something – anything – to make sure they sit up straight away and take notice.
Do this, and you’ll be assured of an attentive audience for the duration.
8. Go Hollywood with the conclusion
Second only to the opening in terms of importance is the conclusion. Finish with a bang – a big number, a cliffhanger or try a Steve Jobs ‘one more thing’ before revealing something no one will have been expecting.
Make a big impression at the end, and your speech will live long in the memory, just as it should.
9. Practice (but don’t over do it)
As uncomfortable as it may feel, it does make sense to practice your speech in front of both the mirror and a colleague or family member. The latter will tell you honestly where you need to improve, while the former will give you a fist-hand indication of whether or not you’re coming over relaxed and calm or awkwardly stiff.
A word of warning: don’t overdo the practicing. While practice makes perfect, too much will have the opposite effect. When you feel you’re happy with the flow, style and approach – stop, even if the speech itself won’t be carried out for a day or two.
10. Pick the optimal time
You may not be able to dictate when the speech takes place, but if you can, all of the power lies in your hands.
Timing is everything.
Pick a day when everyone is likely to be upbeat (Fridays, for example), or after a particularly positive period in the office. The happier people are, the more relaxed both they and you will be. A relaxed room is far easier to talk to, and if there’s a jovial spirit in the air, that’ll work wonders.
Always opt for early on in the day, too. Pick mid-afternoon and you’ll likely hit the ‘slump’ when everyone is craving extra coffee and fervently clock-watching. Deliver the speech when your audience is likely to be as awake, switched-on and fresh as you.
The above preparation won’t guarantee a perfect speech, but it will put you in the right mindset, ensure you have every piece of supporting evidence to hand and enable you to prepare for the inevitable moments that would derail the unprepared.
Most importantly, enjoy yourself. Remember – these are your colleagues, and you’re the one who’s brave enough to stand in front of them all and talk openly and confidently about the business. Few people get that chance.