Monday, December 21, 2009

Spice up ordinary speaking tasks

You've got to give a toast...cut a ribbon...thank all the event sponsors...introduce the speaker...make the "housekeeping" announcements...get people to sit down so the program can start. But don't make the mistake of treating these ordinary speaking tasks as plain-vanilla chores. Instead, use these ways to spice up your next speaking task:
  • Add some personal touches: One reason Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm made it to our list of today's top women speakers was her ability at this event to thank a lot of sponsors and partners with a personal touch--she made the crowd feel she knew each one, or wanted to meet them if she didn't know them. Don't just reel off those sponsor names: Add a short line about each one that comes from you, not from their press releases; if you're in a group where the sponsors are well-known, use their first names; or simply make the thank-you original and varied for each one ("We couldn't have done this without you, Jim...Sharon, your support means so much coming from a longtime member"). Keep it short but put a genuine, heartfelt touch into these remarks and they'll be even more appreciated.
  • Move into the audience: Grab a handheld microphone and walk around the luncheon tables to urge people to take their seats. Or walk around the crowd to make the housekeeping announcements, or to call attention to the sponsors' tables. You'll absolutely have the audience's attention when you're up close, and you'll add some visual spice to the speaking agenda.
  • Replace the ribbon and move that bus: If you have input into the event, suggest something new. At a ribbon-cutting, get the crowd involved by making a "ribbon" of people who'll be working at the new facility, with linked hands, or start a parade through the new door. Then use that as the cue for your remarks.
  • Use humor...with care and originality: Tempted to use humor? Be careful. Speakers often use humor to jazz up the ordinary speaking task--but keep in mind that jokes are among the toughest things for speakers to remember, and so may fall flat. Keep your humor task-oriented. For example, when making the housekeeping announcements--such as the order of events, or the date of the next committee meeting--plan a funny construct or comment you can work into each one. (I won't soon forget the long-ago flight attendant who, as we headed toward 30,000 feet in the air, announced that anyone found smoking in the non-smoking section would be asked to leave the plane immediately.)

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