The video of Ricky Gervais (brilliant by the way) is an example of what not to do when presenting a speech in the workplace.
As someone who has written and directed plays and scenes (which I’m getting back into again) I find no greater joy than in seeing and hearing my written words performed by actors. It’s so much more rewarding than receiving written feedback and reviews on a short story or book because the impact you have on the audience is immediate. You get to read the audience’s facial expressions, see their emotional response, hear their laughter or gasps–it’s all so positively wonderful–intoxicating even.
The same goes for a speech–corporate or not–you’re up in front of a group of people.
At the heart of a successful speech is your immediate and profound impact on that group and it doesn’t matter if it’s a few words at a corporate team building event or leading a Monday Morning Meeting, it’s a very personal interaction. You know what your audience is going to think of you as soon as you start speaking–unless you are the sublimely oblivious David Brent from The Office.
Your speech, then, can go one of two ways:
- You will have bored people to death with an ill-prepared speech, chock-full of run-on sentences, hard-to-understand business lingo, ill thought out-concepts and overall badness or,
- You grabbed your entire audience with a concise, well-researched, written and rehearsed presentation; one where your engagement as a speaker was oozing out of every pore of your body.
You have to treat the speech like a theatrical production. Speeches, like theater, are meant to capture, spark, inform, motivate, entertain and usually unite your group. Based on my fill of listening to bad corporate speeches (it was a few years), directing my husband’s very excellent work speeches and presentations and my work in live theater, here are some tips for your next speech:
1. Rehearse. An actor doesn’t just show up with her/his lines written on some cards or iPad or laptop and hope it all goes well. No. Who would want to see that? The actor plans, practices and practices some more until the words flow. The speech (whether you like it or not) is part of your job, you wouldn’t slack off on a progress report to your superiors, so put some energy into rehearsing.
2. Actors will sometimes practice on their friends–okay, they practice on their friends a lot. It’s a fast and painless (at least for you) way to judge your delivery, so try your speech out on your friends and/or family. Yes, this is part of rehearsing but it’s in front of people who won’t judge you. Don’t ask what they think, look to see how they are reacting. Their faces will tell you everything.
3. Most actors aren’t writers and there’s a reason for that–they’re focused on one craft. If writing isn’t your passion–if you don’t get out of bed every morning pondering your day’s writing schedule, don’t write the speech yourself. Even if you think you are a bit of a writer, it’s usually best to allow someone with experience to forge the first draft for you. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that they have to know the material the way you do, it’s not about that, it’s about the way it’s being presented. Technical facts can be dispersed in later, but it makes for a far more dynamic speech if you allow another voice (writer) to disseminate the information for you.
4. The actor knows s/he gets one shot at captivating the audience so they make them pay attention with body language. Same with your speech–you need to demand the attention you deserve. Stand up straight at the podium, be a presence. Channel Darth Vadar if you have too, look commanding. Wait for people to stop chattering, if they don’t, ask them to please do so with a smile (works better than a frown), look your audience squarely in their eyes and speak in a clear voice. It’s your one shot so run with it.
5. Shake off the nerves. Be comfortable with what you are doing. Speaking in front of people can be intimidating, but remember, they’re human like you. Someone visibly at ease will be able to convey their message more readily than someone thinking how fast they can run away from the podium. Some actors do body movement exercises before they go on stage. You don’t have to go in that specific direction, but concentrating on your breathing or a few simple stretches will help with nerves a whole lot.
Before your next speaking engagement, just ask yourself who would you want to see give the speech you have in your hands, and then own that stage.