Welcome Iain Dale readers
I was helping someone the other day with some well-chosen words for a senior private occasion of some 100 people.
The task? Suggesting ideas for the seemingly simple task of opening the proceedings and introducing the main speaker(s).
Of course … not so simple. The words had to be both effective and touching (given the occasion).
So we worked up some pithy phrases, saying several Big Things in a few words, and with a personal touch.
On the night, a huge success. Three loud bursts of spontaneous applause from the distinguished audience in a four minute opening.
The main speakers too were both excellent , drawing on personal anecdotes to convey a sense of warmth, appreciation and admiration just right for the occasion.
So, folks, if you are out there grappling with the scary task of having to make a speech and finding your bowels tightening (or otherwise) with nerves, think about telling a story, then linking that story to the point of the gathering. The more unobvious the story is when it starts, the better.
People will not remember extended courtesies and flowery language. In fact, they probably won’t even listen to them, waiting instead for something interesting to be said.
They will remember – and more important enjoy – words which appear to come from deep in you.
Words which tell a story which (even if it sounds corny when you look at it on the page) means something to you or the occasion.
The story need not even be true – you can use the story motif to pretend to tell a true story but which leads into a roundabout joke which links back to the occasion. The one of the multilingual dog applying for a job always works in all contexts.
"Ladies and Gentlemen – you probably were expecting me to give you a speech. But I am no good at public speaking. So you’ll be pleased to hear that I am going to tell you a story instead.
What’s more, it’s a true story…no, it really is"
Within seconds you’ll have them all hanging on your every word. Agog, wanting you to keep going, not to shut up and sit down.
When I say that ‘the story need not be true’, I do not mean telling lies.
Rather speak from the start using ideas and imagery grounded in real-life events (or apparently real-life events) rather than animated abstractions. That can be done by drawing on episodes which have happened to you, or on funny stories/jokes which have a real-life feel to them.
A speech is an artificial event, in that the speaker has to try to engage as if personally with a large group of people, many of whom s/he has never met and may be quite some distance away in the room – even harder outside.
So to avoid their attentions drifting out of the window, catch their attention right from the start, maybe by asking a question:
"Do you know what I saw yesterday?"
"I was delighted to get the invitation to come here today. Let me tell you why…"
"This morning I sat down to prepare this speech. After two hours’ work, I ripped it all up. This is why I found it so difficult…"
Any of these openings and many more like them will quickly get the audience tending to like you – and wanting More…