Tuesday, March 04, 2008

your next speech: omit announcements

You'll always find me wincing in the back of the room when I hear speakers clutter up their talks and presentations with what I consider unnecessary announcements that reveal more of what's on the speaker's mind than might be intended. A few examples:
- "They told me to say this..." isn't just unfair to your staff, boss or trainer. It saps your credibility by suggesting even you don't believe in what you're about to say; why then, should we?

- "I've got three things to talk about: Number one..." just adds to the counting. There are better ways to make your three key points memorable to you and your audience, and less awkward. Try a trio of analogies that come from one popular culture theme, like a recent movie, or make them all alliterative. Your audience will follow without the outline being so obvious.

- "I know I only have five minutes, but..." tells me that you are about to violate not only the time alloted to you, but are overconfident of your ability to hold our attention. Or perhaps you can't leave anything out for question time?

- "I have too many things to say, so I'll talk faster." I once watched a candidate for high office in a membership organization announce this before a strictly enforced 5-minute statement in front of those who'd be voting for her--then listened to her speed-talk about 20 minutes of points (with slides) into the limited time. She got ridicule, not votes, and lost.
For the most part, they're innocuous--but speak volumes to your audience, and not the volumes you want them to read. Audiences appreciate respect for their time and attention. They understand speaking is awkward for many, but don't want to see all the awkwardness revealed. They also want you to take charge, remain nonanxious (they really can smell fear) and give them time to ask questions.

That's why, aside from, "it's time to break for lunch," there's only one announcement speakers can make that works in their favor: "I'm really interested in hearing your questions on this important topic, so I'm going to lay out a few thoughts and then we'll turn to questions." Just be sure you make good on that promise!


Anonymous said...

Another non-starter announcement is "I'm happy to be here" or "Thank you for having me". The audience either assumes those things or really doesn't care.

eloquentwoman said...

I debated about publishing the comment above--I disagree with it, and advise my clients never to assume or omit those points, as they are striking in their absence. Speakers may risk looking arrogant or assumptive about an opportunity that's actually rarer than we might like to think.

It's even more effective to use that line to make clear your motivation for speaking to the group, as a means of connecting with them early on. I once helped the EPA Administrator rev up a speech to a group of magazine publishers by asking her whether she subscribed to anything. Turns out she, her husband and her young son all had their own subscriptions--often in multiples, so no one had to wait to read an issue. That made the "I'm so delighted to be here" line work as a lead-in that had the publishers completely enchanted. They had no reason to think she really was happy, nor that she had a close connection. The surprise factor--and her willingness to share it--won them over.