The Goal of Speech Delivery

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This week, Professional Communication and Presentation students watched a TED Talk and created an analysis presentation to deliver to the class.  After working with students on their content, we turned to improving their delivery.

Nancy Duarte’s Presentation Ecosystem was inspired by Jim Endicott’s 3-legged presentation stool.  In both the ecosystem and the stool, there are 3 parts of a strong presentation: 1) message/content, 2) delivery, and 3) visual presentation.  Since April’s focus was exclusively speech delivery, and since we recently defined the goal of presentation as a whole, it’s important to know what the goal of delivery should be.

When we think of the purpose of delivery, its goal, its purpose, it all boils down to one essential element: connection.

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Before you can establish a connection with an audience, however, you must overcome two barriers.  First, you must conquer your speech anxiety, the first and probably biggest barrier for most people.  Next, you must prepare. Without proper preparation, you’ll be focused on your content; you’ll be worried about what’s about to come out of your mouth next as opposed to how you’re delivering that material.  Only when you overcome your speech anxiety and properly prepare for a presentation will you be able to focus on the goal of speech delivery.

Connection can’t happen when you’re standing behind a podium reading a speech like a robot.  Connection can’t happen when you’re unprepared or lizard braining.  Connection is about showing the audience the real, authentic, true you so that they can feel your human-ness.  Connection starts with authenticity.

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Now, authenticity doesn’t mean act in front of an audience exactly as you would at home sitting on the couch with your best friend.  Decorum is important for a speaker, Aristotle tells us, so with authenticity comes an element of professionalism.  With decorum in mind, authenticity is you at your very best.  It’s feeling great, looking great, and taking pride and being happy in the moment with exactly who you are.

This month, several students came in to conference about their TED Analysis Presentations.  One particular student, we’ll call her Cindy, came in with a script, and her practice run involved her just reading the script to us.  Cindy has a kind and gentle personality; she’s truly beautiful inside and out.  Reading from a script, however, drained her of all that personality, and she wasn’t connected with her audience or showing any sort of authenticity or naturalness.

We often think writing a script and reading that script will be helpful; after all, we can just memorize our content and say everything word-for-word, exactly as we intended, right?  Absolutely not!  Working from a script is the best way for the Lizard Brain to take hold of you.  If you mess up one sentence, one word, you chastise yourself for not being “perfect.”  But perfection isn’t the goal of speech delivery… authenticity is.  Using an outline allows you to organize your thoughts and nail down your content without losing that naturalness.

During our conference, Cindy decided to delete her Word document script and to work from an outline instead.  The practice round in front of her instructors versus her final presentation in front of the class was a complete transformation.  Cindy confidently presented her material in class with that outline.  She had to look down a few times to make sure she was staying on the well-organized path she created for herself, but she spoke to us all as if we were having a conversation.  She finally showed her audience that beautiful personality we know and love about her.

Remember that authenticity is key in speech delivery, and you’ll never be able to show your audience who you truly are if you’re just memorizing a script and repeating that script word for word.  Audience members don’t relate to robots.  We relate to real people.

Connection is also about showing the audience your passion.  A presenter connects with an audience by showing that passion.  A TED Commandment was based on this idea; TED Commandment #3 tells us, “Thou shalt show thy curiosity and thy passion” (Source).  Passion is important because if a presenter doesn’t care about his or her topic, an audience certainly won’t.

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I find that passion in presenting comes down to one key factor: topic selection.  A student in Professional Communication and Presentation a few months ago was terrified to take the course.  Let’s call him Adam.  Adam refused to take the course for quite a long time because of his Lizard Brain.  However, when it came time for him to take the course or lose his degree, he came to class and tried to cope with his fear.  After a few days, Adam was forced to deliver his very first speech in front of the class, and the Lizard Brain became too much for him.  After conferencing with him, his instructors and speech partners found a topic Adam was passionate about: hockey.  Adam was so excited about the chance to talk about something he loved that he temporarily forgot the irrational Lizard Brain fears and instead focused on developing a strong speech.  He called up his knowledge on the subject, his love for the game, and his past experiences as a hockey player.  In this case, topic selection allowed Adam to finally see his potential as a strong presenter.

If you select a topic you love, you will be able to show your passion to your audience.  Consider Benjamin Zander’s TED Talk “On Music and Passion,”  a speech about classical music.  Though Zander is charismatic, would his passion come through the same way in a speech about the water cycle or the anatomy of a honeybee?  Since Zander is a conductor, his life’s work and passion is classical music.

Show us your passion by picking a topic you love, telling us why you love it, and giving us examples of your connection to your topic.  Storytelling goes a long way, as you can see from Zander’s TED Talk.  You will also find that your confidence is much higher delivering a speech on a topic you love versus delivering a speech on a topic you know little to nothing about… In Adam’s case, his hockey speech allowed him to show his true personality and obsession with the sport.  His delivery was passionate because he was able to retire the Lizard Brain and smile, laugh, and have fun with his presentation.

Garr Reynolds wrote the book on speech delivery; The Naked Presenter is a must-own for anyone who has to deliver a presentation.  His book is written so that regardless of public speaking knowledge or experience, anyone can understand and apply his key principles.

Have you read The Naked Presenter?  What are your thoughts on the text?

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