Everyone knows how to talk, but only a few know how to speak.
The words, however clichéd they might sound, are true.
As is the fact that, even if you know how to speak, no one’s really going to recognize it unless you manage to spark enough interest to make them actually listen to your speech.
Listen to. Not hear.
Just like the words ‘talking’ and ‘speaking’, there’s a subtle but important difference between listening to something and merely hearing it.
Delivering a speech that’s both powerful and persuasive is a tricky job. Add interesting to the mix and to most people (especially if you’re an introvert by nature) the task begins to sound downright torturous.
But, worry not!
The secret to both, delivering an interesting speech and cooking a lip-smacking dish is the same: it’s not a single ingredient, rather an amalgamation of them that makes it magnificent.
An interesting speech needs not only to pique your readers’ interest but also to sustain it. There are a variety of factors that go into its making, ranging from the length and phrasing of your speech to your skill with storytelling techniques and using props.
Still confused? Stick till the end of this article and I guarantee you’ll be out of your quandary.
What Makes A Speech Boring?
Before we delve into how to deliver a speech that’s going to leave your audience speechless, let’s skim over the other side of the equation: what makes a speech boring?
Continuing with the lip-smacking dish metaphor, a boring speech isn’t the consequence of a single but multiple elements that go into the making of it. A few of them are:
You’ve messed up the beginning
The beginning of the speech is one of its most important components. It’s also where most people tend to mess up.
While introducing yourself is important, you don’t want to spend a quarter of your allotted time providing information about yourself or telling your life story. Try to get to the point as quickly as possible.
Many inexperienced speakers tend to start off their speech by thanking someone. While showcasing your gratitude as a speaker is important, save your thanks for the end of your speech instead of its beginning.
It’s Too Complex
Another factor that makes a speech boring is making it too long or too complex or worse: both. Try to keep your speech to the time limit or slightly under it. Whatever you do, don’t exceed the time limit.
You haven’t structured it properly
Another common ingredient in boring speeches is the structure. Or rather, a lack of structure. A lot of speakers tend to throw points around without tying them together.
Or they might end the speech abruptly, perhaps after realizing that they’ve run out of time, pilfering the audience of a satisfactory conclusion. Just like beginnings, endings matter too, and this is another area where most speakers tend to make mistakes–or downright ignore it.
There’s nothing unique about it
If there’s nothing in your speech that stands out or makes it unique, then the odds are in the favor of your viewers forgetting about the speech the moment you finish delivering it. You can practice your speech a hundred times, but if there’s nothing distinctive about it, then your efforts are for nothing as nobody’s going to be actually hearing it.
So, next time you’re practicing your speech in front of the mirror, ask yourself: what’s different about my speech than the hundreds of other speeches that are delivered everyday?
Churning out information without giving it some form of a narrative structure is another factor that guarantees for a boring speech. If you’re simply mentioning facts and figures, you’re going to lose your reader’s interest before it’s even piqued. If you wish to captivate your audience’s attention, then one of the best ways to do it is delivering your speech like you’re telling a story.
After all, who doesn’t like a good story?
Steps To Make Your Speech Interesting
If you’ve ever daydreamed through a drab speech delivered by insert-the-name-of-a-random-authoritative-figure in your school days, you know exactly how long a thirty (or if it’s your lucky day, sixty) minute talk can be.
I’ve been there. You’ve been there. We’ve all been there.
And I’m certain that none of us want to be there again.
Especially not if we’re the ones delivering the speech.
To make sure you land on the sweet spot named ‘the-most-interesting-speech-I’ve-ever-heard’ and keep you from stumbling into the deep, deep pit of ‘a lecture’, I’ve listed out some points for you below.
1. Keep It Short & Sweet
Studies have shown that the optimal attention span for an audience (that is, the attention span that can be retained by an interested human listening to a speaker) is about twenty minutes.
This doesn’t mean that people will be unerringly focused on your speech for twenty minutes and then promptly lose interest the moment the time is up. What it means is that you need to structure your speech in such a way that you can optimize your audience’s attention span.
Look, I know that most speeches are going to last longer than twenty minutes. However, you don’t have to necessarily speak for twenty minutes non-stop. To get around the 20 minute barrier, you can break your talk into different components, with each constituent lasting for around twenty minutes.
Make a smooth transition between the different components by giving your audience enough time to relax and then begin to refocus their attention on what you’re saying.
This way, not only will you be able to hold their interest for longer, but you will also increase the chances of them remembering important bits of your speech long after you’ve finished speaking.
2. Choose your words wisely
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
These words by Martin Luther King Jr. are a great example of how a sentence doesn’t necessarily have to be long and employ eloquent language to be powerful.
On the contrary, concise sentences where no word is redundant but rather every character is handpicked so that it adds to the overall meaning have a far greater impact as well as reach.
I’m not asking you to cut down on important points or to use banal words in order to fit the above description.
Rather, I’m asking you to ask yourself while you’re writing the speech: is there anything that I’ve said in fifty words that could be better said in ten or five words?
Go through your speech multiple times to make sure that no word or sentence is redundant. If you find a paragraph or sentence that you feel doesn’t really add anything impactful to your speech, cut it out. It may actually be taking something away from your speech, and after deleting the extra part, you might find that your speech sounds better.
You can also take the use of Thesaurus or other online dictionaries to discover new words or phrases that might help you express your ideas more concisely.
3. Grab Their Attention In The Beginning
I’ve got a question for you: how do you decide whether you want to buy a particular book?
Most people (many more than who care to admit it, anyway) either choose the much-denounced path of judging-a-book-by-it’s-cover or they read the synopsis at the back of the cover or skim through the first couple of pages to glean an idea of whether it’s worthwhile to spend their precious time or money on a particular title.
Because authors/agents are smart, they know that if they can’t hook you in the beginning, you’re going to drift away. This is why the first line in a book is always an attention-grabber.
The same rule can be transcribed to a public speech: grab their attention in the beginning or stand to lose it before you even reach the end of the beginning.
Make the opening lines of your speech one of the most—if not the most—intriguing parts of it. There are many ways to do this.
You could start with an anecdote, for one. Or you could ask your audience a question. You could even go with a joke or a fun-fact.
What matters is the shock-value. You want to give the audience a taste of what the rest of your speech is going to be like. You want them to feel like the time and/or money that they’ve invested is going to be worthwhile.
4. Make Them Laugh
A day without laughter is a day wasted.
While I certainly agree with Charlie Chaplin’s famous words, I have altered them into my personal motto: a speech without laughter is an opportunity wasted.
Now, I’m not saying that you want your audience to be rolling on their stomach throughout your speech (unless you’re doing a stand-up comedy). I understand that might be counter-productive. I also understand that sometimes cracking a joke during a speech might not even be encouraged or even appropriate.
However, if there is nothing to stop you from adding a dose of humor to your speech but uncertainty about your own comic timing, then my friend, you have wasted a glorious opportunity.
Some of the best speeches in the world, which have been viewed by millions of people all around the globe besides standing the test of time, have humor in them. A majority of the most successful public speakers in the world have natural charisma, charm, and a good sense of humor.
Take Barack Obama, for instance. Many of his speeches are punctuated with comic jabs and funny anecdotes, and that is a key factor that makes his speeches so interesting to hear, besides making him more relatable—more human, like them—to the audience.
5. Tell Them Stories
Who doesn’t love a good story?
Stories not only help make your speech more interesting, but they might also strike a personal chord with your audience, thus making you more relatable and increasing the chances of cementing your speech in their minds.
Anecdotes, when used as examples, can also make it easier for your audience to understand a complex message or point.
Besides, you can use stories as a transition when you’re moving from one important or critical component of your speech to another. This will give your audience a break from the more serious bits of your speech and allow them to return to the next part in a fresher state of mind.
Stories make you more human in your audience’s mind. Especially if they resonate with the audience’s own experiences, they might make the onlookers think of you as one of them.
However, make sure that your transition into storytelling territory is smooth. Don’t randomly add a story to any part of your speech. This will not only make your speech sound awkward but might also throw off your audience and confuse them.
A good place to add an anecdote is at the beginning of your speech or the end of it (the middle also works, but as I mentioned before, provided that your transition is smooth). If you add a story to the beginning of your speech, it can act as an attention-grabber
If you add it in the end, try to choose something that will resonate with your audience and make your speech linger in their minds long after you’ve finished speaking.
6. Express Yourself Expressively
If there’s one thing that’s worse than a sixty-minute uninterrupted speech, it’s a sixty-minute uninterrupted speech with a speaker that is as expressive as a rock.
Speaking isn’t the only component of a good speech.
How you speak is just as important as what you speak.
Facial gestures, hand movements, body language, the pitch and timbre of your voice…all these are as crucial to the delivering of an interesting speech as the speech itself.
No matter how intriguing the contents of your speech, if you deliver them monotonously and in an unanimated way, then you can kiss capturing your audience’s attention goodbye.
To understand, try remembering a speech that really moved you. Now recall the most boring speech you’ve ever heard in your entire life.
Ask yourself: what makes these two speeches so different?
Chances are, one of the key points that made the first speech especially interesting and memorable and the second speech especially uninteresting and drab was the manner in which the speaker delivered the talk.
7. Use Concrete Evidence & Simple Language
An important thing to keep in mind is using concrete evidence. This includes things like numbers, statistics, real-life incidents, facts, photographs, etc. If you don’t ground your story in real life, then it might be too abstract for your audience to connect with.
While using grandiose language might make you sound impressive, using complex grammar or words plucked from some random page off of a thick dictionary is going to make it difficult—if not impossible—for the general public to connect with you. If they cannot understand what you’re saying, how will they remember it?
Thus, it is always wise to be cognizant of your audience’s intellectual capacity or their familiarity with the particular language you’re going to be delivering your speech in. If your audience is not native to the language, try to keep your word-choice as humble as possible. And even if they are, it’s best not to flaunt your verbosity.
8. Know & Understand Your Audience
What’s your audience going to consist of? Is it going to be mainly comprised of college-going adults or school-going kids? Do a majority of them belong to a minority community or do they share some common privileges?
By doing prior research on your audience, you can structure your speech in such a way as to incorporate things that they are familiar with and will be able to relate to. This will help them formulate a connection with you, the speaker, and thus increase chances of them remembering you in the future.
9. Interact With The Audience
The more involved your audience is in your speech, the greater the chances that they will remember it. People like being made to feel like their opinions—and they—matter. Try to ask questions to your audience, and also to encourage them to ask questions to you. You can do this by adding a question-answer round at the end of your speech.
Tell funny stories and ask them to share their own experiences with you. As mentioned before, cracking jokes is another good way of connecting with your audience.
10. The Ending Matters Too
The ending of your speech is just as important as the beginning. While the beginning helps set the tone for your speech and give the audience an idea of what to expect from their speaker, the ending is the big takeaway after you’ve finished speaking.
The note that you end your speech at is going to determine whether your audience thinks and discusses about your speech long after you’ve finished speaking or if they mumble a few words and forget about it a couple of moments after it finishes.
Like disappointing book or movie endings, a substandard end to a speech can leave a bitter taste in your mouth—to make matters worse, a bad ending might also ruin everything that came before it. On the contrary, a good ending can have the exact opposite effect and make your story resonate in your audience’s mind long, long after you’ve finished speaking.
Need some inspiration for a resonant ending? Check out our article on 15 Powerful Speech Ending Lines (And Tips to Create Your Own) for some inspiration!
7 secret ingredients to spice up your speech
“Memory is a strange thing. It doesn’t work as I thought it did.”
These lines, enunciated by the amazing Louise Banks in the movie Arrival, perfectly capture the elusive nature of human memory. We remember things we’re supposed to forget. We forget things we’re supposed to remember (like where you kept those goddamned car keys). The human brain works in mysterious ways, period.
Since we’re not yet smart enough to out-smart our own brain (if that makes any sense), how do we side-step the obstacle of the ever-changing nature of memory and cement your awesome speech in your audience’s mind for years to come?
Well, for starters, the above-listed points are a good means to not only make your speech interesting but also interesting enough to be memorable. But there are a few additional things that you can do to increase the chances of immortalizing (or getting as close to it as possible, anyway) your speech in your audience’s mind.
A few other things you can do to make your speech memorable are:
1. Using Props
The apt use of a well-suited propped can add that extra kick that can catapult your presentation from good to awesome. For example, if you’re giving a speech on environmental degradation, you can take the model of a forest with you to physically demonstrate the effects of the degradation of forests.
However, while using props, you need to keep a few things in mind. Make sure that the prop that you use is relevant to the message. Also, don’t use too many of them. Another thing to keep in mind is that your prop is appropriate for and clearly visible to your audience.
2. Playing a game
Adding a short game round in the middle of your speech is another great way of making yourself stand out, besides giving the audience a chance to promote themselves from mere spectators to active members of the event.
However, just like while using props, make sure that the game you choose is appropriate and relevant to the topic. Another thing to keep in mind is to not make the game too long or complicated. Remember that you want whatever game you chose to add to your speech and not distract your audience from it.
3. How about a video?
While you can certainly include an interesting video or clip that you found on YouTube or from the internet, one way to make your speech stand out is to record something beforehand and include it in during your speech.
The video can comprise anything, from a factual documentary to a short movie to a speech that you’ve given in the past to a personal attempt at stand-up comedy! Not only will it give your audience a break from listening, but it will also allow you a chance to breathe and grab a quick sip of water or just a moment to yourself before you dive into the next part of your speech.
4. Using Different Storytelling Approaches
As mentioned before, telling stories are a great way of engaging your audience. You can also take this advice a step further by specifically incorporating various storytelling techniques in your presentation.
For example, the Rags to Riches Approach is focused on portraying a certain character (generally the protagonist) rise from poverty to achieving, not without a good deal of struggle, wealth, and status.
By inculcating this technique in your speech or presentation, you increase the chances of connecting with your audience, as life struggles are something that most people can resonate with. For more similar techniques, check out our article on 9 Storytelling Approaches For Your Next Speech Or Presentation.
5. Adding Impromptu Activities
An impromptu game is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a spontaneously chosen game that hasn’t been predetermined by you, the speaker. Instead, any time during course of your speech, ask your audience members to pitch in with any game suggestions that come to their mind.
If there are many suggestions, then go with the one that gets the most number of votes. Let the audience be the decision makers for once!
6. Use Audience Polls
This is another great way to increase increase the audience’s involvement even further! Not only this, but an audience poll can also help you glean an insight into your audience’s mind! You can use the poll to ask a variety of questions. For eg. if you’re delivering a speech about facing racism at workplace, you could ask the audience if any one of them has faced racism in their own workplace before.
7. Get People To Join You On The Stage
You can do this in two ways. First, you could invite other experts of or people related to your topic.
For instance, if you’re launching a beauty product, you could invite on the stage people who’ve used your product in the past and can vouch for it. Another way to do this is to invite members of the audience to join you on stage!
This will take your audience’s involvement to another level, as you are inviting them to be a part of the space that’s been traditionally reserved for speakers. You could ask them for their feedback, or ask if they’ve got any questions for you, or even if they want to pitch in with a short speech on the topic themselves!
Examples of Interesting Speeches
I’ve linked below videos to some of the most popular speeches in world history. As you watch them, focus on how the speaker is delivering the speech. Note their body language and facial expressions, their hand-gestures, and intonations. Study the videos and try to inculcate what you learn from them into your own speech.
1. The Speech That Made Obama President:
Without a doubt, Barack Obama is one of the most gifted orators of our time. This is one of the best speeches that he delivered.
As you watch it, notice how he interacts with his audience, keeping them engaged throughout the speech and making them feel involved in it.
Use what you learned from your observation of the former president to understand how you can keep your audience involved in your speeches and make it a better experience for them overall.
2. Martin Luther King Jr.: I Have A Dream:
This remains one of the most-watched and admired speeches throughout history. And for good reason! The speech employed flawless rhetoric. Not a word used in this speech was redundant. Although it lasted merely sixteen minutes, it got across more information in that time than speeches that last twice as long. Listen to the words used in the speech very carefully.
For a more in-depth analysis of the language, you can also lookup the transcript of the speech online.
Use the information gleaned from this analysis to learn how to use language more effectively as well as efficiently in your speech.
Check out our article on Drawing Public Speaking Lessons From ‘I Have A Dream‘ for a more detailed analysis of the speech.
3. Michelle Obama Final First Lady Speech:
This is one of the best speeches that I’ve heard.
As you watch it, keep an eye on Michelle’s body language and facial expressions throughout the speech. For example, the way she uses hand gestures to emphasize a point, or how her expression changes when she’s talking about something serious versus when the topic is something lighter.
You can use this as a guideline to understand how to effectively employ body-language during your speech to increase it’s impact.
4. Inside The Mind Of A Master Procrastinator:
This is one of the most interactive Ted Talks I’ve come across.
Especially notice how the speaker makes use of comic caricatures and other attractive visual imagery on the screen behind him to make his presentation more engaging.
Also, notice how he keeps involving his audience in his speech, making frequent references to them and mentioning things that are easily relatable, to make it a more lively experience. You, too, can make use of visuals that your audience can easily relate to in order to make it easier for them to connect to what you’re saying.
To sum it up, an interesting speech is a result of a successful combination of factors. These include having a powerful opening as well as ending, the effective employment of language, humor and storytelling techniques, respecting the time limit as well as your audience, and adding sprinkle of uniqueness to make it truly memorable.