How to deliver a speech is often the most important choice a speaker can make.
The audience is small, only 50 or 60 people.
All are family and close friends.
The birthday boy has turned 80.
And we’re all looking forward to some speeches.
But how do you get the thoughts in your head across to the room?
If you’re feeling emotional, how do you hold it together?
And if you’re nervous about speaking, how do you hide your trepidation?
It’s my friend Iain McKie’s 80th birthday party at a posh hotel in Ayrshire.
Lunch has been served, so it’s time for wise words from four different people.
And they will unwittingly demonstrate four distinct techniques on how to deliver a speech.
All have prepared their thoughts.
But can they deliver them as they wanted?
You see, each has two presentations to make.
The obvious one is to the audience.
But just as important is the one to themselves.
Because how they’ve presented their information to their brain will determine how successfully their mouths can finish the job.
So what methods are there?
Nephew Scott is a doctor.
He deals with people all the time.
But he hates public speaking.
He’s been thinking about how to deliver a speech since the moment he was asked, he tells me.
He has several pages of typed script.
Slowly and carefully, he delivers it with expression and clarity.
When he chokes with emotion, he pauses.
The audiences make encouraging noises.
He regains composure and carries on.
There’s warmth, humour and clarity in his message.
Reading it word for word works well for Scott.
He stays on track, refusing to deviate from the script.
Thunderous applause as he sits down.
Daughter Emilie has copious notes.
Too many in fact.
She’s just realised she’s limited to five minutes, but has written far more.
She’s having to rethink how to deliver a speech.
Some instant editing takes place before the audience.
She puts most of her notes to one side.
Now that she’s comfortable with the length, she begins.
Emilie is mainly using notes, but she has the confidence to add lines in.
The ad-libs are funny and heartfelt.
She stays on track with everything but time.
The stories are well-worked.
We can see what she’s describing.
She’s recreating a chaotic household in the 70s and 80s.
It’s a terrific mix of appreciation for her father.
And well-observed descriptions of his follies.
Emilie gets a well-earned ovation from the appreciative crowd.
This is how I’ve chosen to remind myself of what I want to say about Iain.
I’ve decided to chose three words that sum up his character.
These words are: Genuine, Integrity and Tenacious.
So I scribble down a few lines and anecdotes to support each word on a single sheet of paper.
I talk about his genuine interest in me, my family, my business and the issues that interest me.
His integrity is greater than anyone I’ve ever met.
I point out he would be the very last person I’d ever expect to see cheating on the golf course.
(Come to think of it, I joke, he was the last person I saw cheating on the golf course).
I had once described him in an TV interview as the most tenacious man I’d ever met.
I helped him and his daughter as he fought for 14 years for an apology from Scotland’s top law officers.
The Shirley McKie fingerprint case sent ripples around the world.
False allegations against her eventually brought down Scotland’s fingerprint bureau.
I asked the audience to remember Iain by the acronym of these three words: Genuine, Integrity, Tenacious.
That acronym is GIT.
So we finished on a laugh.
The three-word prompt works for me and I sit down to warm appreciation.
Iain himself spoke last.
It was clear he’d thought about how to deliver a speech.
He was fluent, eloquent and had the wisdom of a – well – octogenarian.
In his speech, he quoted poetry he’d written and committed to memory.
He paid tribute to people in the room.
Speaking simply, he addressed his grandchildren in terms, to which they related.
And he reflected on his life with brutal honesty.
Cataloguing his personal mistakes took guts.
But once we’ve exposed our own frailties, others find it more difficult to cause offence.
At times we laughed.
At others, I felt my eyes watering with emotion.
He sat down to a sustained round of applause for a profound speech, well-delivered.
The big question remains: how to deliver a speech effectively.
What is the best method?
Scott’s verbatim delivery?
Emilie’s script with ad-libs?
My sheet using key words as cues?
Or Iain’s part-memorised emotional rollercoaster?
The answer is: whatever works for the speaker.
It was unimportant to the audience how each of us chose to deliver our message.
What mattered to them was:
How to deliver a speech is a point raised frequently on the presentation skills training courses we run.
It’s the same questions wherever we are in the world.
How should we arrange our notes?
Or should we use notes at all?
Quite simply, we have to find the method that works for us.
As an audience, we just want to enjoy or learn from what’s being said.
Whether you’re speaking at a wedding or a friend’s big event.
Speaking to hundreds in a conference or talking to your team.
Choose your method.
Rehearse well so you’re conversant with your points.
Then give it everything you’ve got.
This week I’ll watch dozens of presenters at a huge conference in Las Vegas.
They’ll all have their planned methods of how to deliver a speech.
One of the speakers is my younger daughter.
She’ll address over 16,000 people at the MGM Arena.
So how did she make the journey from public speaking phobia to main stage speaker?
Find out next week.
Bill McFarlan is co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.
You can read his full profile here.
Photos by Daniel Morrison / CC BY / sridgway / CC BY / Anthony Crider / CC BY / Nederlandse Ambassade te Peking / CC BY-ND / 2017 Canada Games // Jeux du Canada 2017 / CC BY / MikeBlogs / CC BY / on Foter.com.
Photo of Iain McKie by Caroline McFarlan.
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