Picture the scene, we've all been there; your heart's racing, palms sweating and all eyes are turned to you in expectation of something witty, entertaining, powerful and full of gravitas. Public speaking strikes fear into the most stolid people, whether it's a best man's toast or a plenary to an auditorium of colleagues.
It can be a tricky art to master, striking a balance, ensuring mass appeal and exuding an air of confidence (even if you are terrified beyond belief). I am sure we'd all like our audience to walk away comparing our performance to the likes of Winston Churchill, Steve Jobs or Barak Obama as opposed to Nicholas Cage's car crash 1995 Oscar acceptance speech!
Fear not, for in my role as the managing director of a speaking bureau and consultancy, I have a whole host of top tips to ensure your speech is remembered for all the right reasons.
Know your audience
A little prior research is essential. I have seen plenty of speeches which have fallen flat because the maker had not gauged the demography of the audience before the event. When you draft your content, ensure that you ask for pertinent information about the audience. For example, you would not give a speech on the merits of genetically modified produce to a group of organic farmers. Consider the breakdown of your audience in terms of age, culture and language, and factor this into your content and delivery to create the desired impact.
Own your word
When establishing the content of a speech, a speaker should draw on their personal beliefs, experiences and inspirations. Not only is an audience able to sense when somebody owns their words, the connection a speaker feels with material they have lived and breathed only serves to enhance the way it is expressed.
How you deport yourself from the start of your speech will define how your audience relate to you throughout your address. In the most part, the things to consider are fairly obvious, such as avoiding slouching, limiting hand gestures, and speaking in measured, modulated tone. Body language has a powerful impact on perception so be confident and upbeat. Clinging onto the mic stand or lectern for dear life will give the impression that you are out of your depth.
Define your message
Anchor your speech around a selection of key toplines, this will help you create a structure which will improve the consistency of your delivery. You need to communicate an awareness of the core points you are trying to communicate. Often it can be tempting to disappear down tangents, relating, but not wholly relevant to the central message.
Clever phrasing, alliteration and other forms of wordplay can help your words stick in the mind of your audience; think Barack 'Yes we can' Obama's famous 'Rule of Three': To persuade, to assure, and to rule if you're looking for some inspiration from a more prolific figure than me. One great trick which works time and time again is highlighting single words or phrases in a manner which encourages listeners to intrinsically link your primary points to the wider aspects of the speech.
Is it funny?
Humour varies tremendously and its use within speeches needs careful consideration. The golden rule is never be offensive, even if the audience is a familiar one. Channelling your inner Frankie Boyle at a wedding is probably not going to win any favours from the bride, groom or their respective families. Again, it must be appropriate to the occasion. As much as your Alan Partridge or David Brent impressions might be hilariously entertaining to your friends, they are probably not going to particularly resonate amongst the usually diverse audience found in the corporate world.
Start as you mean to finish
At the very start of your speech, you should aim to share two key messages with your audience in order to engage them: first, a justification of why you have the right to be the centre of attention and secondly a brief high-level overview of what you are looking to achieve. The final moment of the speech is the crescendo. By the time you've reached the end of your magnum opus, you need to create sustained impact. Aim to tie your key points together to leave people feeling, not just excited about, but also focused on, the message and its long-term implications.
Create a legacy
I am passionate that the job of the speaker should not simply be measured on the day. Beyond this, a speaker should have an impact which lasts for weeks, months and even years down the line. When words alone are not enough, social media can help you secure this, whether it is highlighting relevant handles, hashtags and online profiles at the beginning of the speech which will help it resonate amongst your audience in the immediate and aftermath.
Remember that, no matter how well you have prepared your speech, all good plans can go awry. External factors cannot be helped and it's not unusual to discover the brief for your speech or audience has changed in some way, making your content either irrelevant or wildly inappropriate. However, if you own your words, know your key points and have laid out your memorable structure with broad outlines at the beginning and end, you will have the flexibility to adapt your content as needed. Content is king after all; tailor it to your audience's specific needs, even if the parameters should change dramatically.
Finally, if you are looking for inspiration from the professionals, my advice would be to head to a well-known comedy club (Comedy Store, Leicester Square Theatre, Soho Theatre). Every night, the same comedian will deliver a unique set. By establishing fixed times throughout, when they know to deliver their primary punchlines, their minds are free to manoeuvre and generate a myriad of inventive comedic creations which wow an audience. The same principle can be applied to making any sort of speech.