HUGH CULVER

Five Ways to Make Your Speech Stand Out

Updated to Business on December 14, 2022.

In the last 15 years I have researched, prepared, and delivered over 1,000 speeches and seminars. I’ve also seen my share of other presenters. Some were outstanding, many needed work.

I know I’m critical (not a bad thing if you earned your living as a speaker). And I think I’ve learned a lot about making an audience lean in, pick up their pen, and move to action.

Here are five ways to get more standing ovations and get rehired more often. I know, it’s what I do every speech.

1. Skip the commercial

Sorry, we don’t care you’re happy to be there (duh, who wouldn’t, at $100/minute?) – get to the show. Burning through minutes while you “warm us up” is, well, burning through minutes. (get more details in this post “How to Design a Great Speech”)

If you want to stand out, jump right into a story (one that’s relevant, please), make a bold claim, or fact (like, “Did you know email consumes one third of your day?”), or throw out a big objective (like, “What I am about to share could change your life forever”).

“If you want to stand out, jump right into a story”

At the very least, toss out a teaser (like, “Today, you will learn how to survive any conflict situation – with style”).

2. Make them squirm

The first step in all change theory is awareness. You can’t get a child to commit to cleaning their room if don’t first admit their room is a mess. Same for quitting smoking, losing weight, spending less, and giving a speech. If fact, I like to make ‘em squirm in their awareness a bit (can you believe I get paid for this?).

Once I’m through my opening (see “Skip the commercial”, above), I launch into the “Problem” I know they have. I’ve done my research, so I’m pretty clear what challenges they have that relate to my topic of personal effectiveness at work.

And by the time I’ve describe that problem in three different ways, they are squirming in their chairs like an eight year-old caught lifting liquorice from the corner store.

3. Tell your story

People believe and are more willing to take advice from someone who is sort of like them. That’s your job, after you’ve ramped up awareness of their problem, it’s time to let them know why you are a credible source. (Learn more about delivering the perfect speech in this post)

There’s three ways to do this:

  • Share relevant facts – this can be proof that you are an expert.
  • Tell a client’s story – we always believe a good case study. Do you have one you can tell?
  • Tell your story –  my favourites – explain how you made a similar problem go away

4. Change their mind

People don’t need more advice—they need to change their mind and do something different. Let’s start with advice. Sorry, but I can probably find your advice (and mine) somewhere on line. No worries, no one is doing anything with it.

People don’t need more advice—they need to change their mind and do something different.

Your job (only, that is, if you want to be paid) is to change your audience’s mind and get them moving. Here’s how:

  • help them envision a different/better future. Paint a picture of a realistic, better way of doing something, like working smarter so you need to work fewer hours.
  • get them talking. When delegates have a chance to talk with a partner they get new insights, or even confirmation of their new plan.
  • have them move. Physical movement sparks new emotions that lead to new thoughts. I wrote about that here.

5. Describe the action

Motivation is nice. Motivation, with instructions will get you rehired.

“Motivation is nice. Motivation, with instructions will get you rehired.”

Depending on the agenda, audience, and objectives, you can either go deep with multiple examples. I usually follow a simple model:

I start with a story, or fact, to get their attention, then I segue into my lesson, and finish with examples of how they can apply this lesson in their work/life. It sounds like this:

“[story] Just yesterday I was in a meeting when….[lesson] effective meetings always lead to commitments. [application] You can get more commitment by, at the end of the meeting, having everyone repeat their commitments.”

Download the full speech template you can use immediately.

Three things you should never, ever do

Now that you have a simple, but potent, five-part model for your next speech, here are three things you absolutely want to avoid doing:

  1. start slow, end fast. This is so easy to do (I’ve done far too many times) and it’s the sure sign of an amateur. Instead, have cut-off times for each of the five parts, above and stick to them.
  2. excuse poor planning. Never ever say something like “If I had more time, I’d…” – it makes you look like a punter and the audience feels ripped off. You have the time you have and no more – now do what you can with it.
  3. read your slides. Aaargh! Please don’t look over your shoulder and read the slides! Instead, remove almost all the text and use your slides as bookmarks, not copies of your speech.

Giving a speech is a privilege. And with a little planning and practice it can also be a performance that changes lives.