Thursday, June 16, 2016

Your signature talk: Create a talk or presentation that fits you like a glove

When I wrote recently about Michelle Obama's commencement speech at Tuskegee University, I noted how she made the speech specific to herself and personal. I urged speakers, as I often do when coaching, to make your speech one that only you could give, saying, "The next time you are preparing a presentation or speech, ask yourself: Could anyone else give this? If the answer is yes, put more of yourself into it."

Or, as I tell my clients, "This talk should fit you like a glove."

Sometimes, that's a tall order when you are facing the prospect of a corporate presentation, focused on the informational. Let me assure you that even an audience of executives--perhaps especially that audience--likes a personalized presentation, rather than one that's off the shelf. Here are some ways you can inject yourself and your personality into your next talk or presentation, so it fits you like a glove:
  • Approach this as creating your signature talk: What style of speaking works best for you as a speaker? Which topic is the one you turn to again and again, as a core topic? What are your unique insights? What's your mission in telling us about it? These questions can help you determine everything from the length and format of the talk to how you tell it--and they will make it distinctly yours.
  • Tell a personal story: Hands down, personal stories are the easiest way to make a speech or presentation your own. Think about how to work your story into the open *and* the close of your presentation, perhaps by not telling it all the way through at first, and completing it later to make your point.
  • Share something known only to you: This tactic automatically makes your audience feel as if something unique is happening, a rare quality in a business presentation. Some of the best examples I know come in eulogies like Maya Angelou's words for Coretta Scott King, or Caroline Kennedy's remembrance of her uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy. But yours might be a behind-the-scenes peek at your production process or the founder's original thinking, as yet unshared publicly. Consider this with care before you deploy it.
  • Use a metaphor meaningful to you: It's easiest, I find, for speakers to reach for metaphors that are personally meaningful to them, since you'll already have a store of knowledge on the topic that can help shape a speech. If you're a gardener, for example, and the point you're trying to make lends itself to a garden metaphor, play with that. Often, this boosts the speaker's enthusiasm for the talk, always a good thing.
  • Share some personal perspective: You don't need to tell a story to inject more of yourself in a presentation. If you're describing a project, tell us what frustrated you or excited you. Describe how that research echoed something you've been curious about since you were a kid. Tell us if you've never seen a trend like this over the course of your career, or how you handled something when you worked in a different sector. Your perspective and experience are your value-adds, and make the presentation more yours.
  • Choose and use words that are authentic for you:  U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson was reported by his own speechwriters to routinely cross out the names of the famous men whose quotes were inserted in his speeches, preferring to preface the quotes with, "As my dear old daddy used to say...." For him, that was more authentic and approachable. His speechwriter Liz Carpenter learned: "Leave Aristotle out of it." In the same way, don't choose $10 words or vocabulary that's awkward or uncomfortable for you. Your discomfort will show. Instead, make the language yours.
A word to the wise: All of the advice above is about personal details that are relevant to your talk or presentation topic. Leave out those gratuitous photos of your cute children or your hobbies or most recent trip, or funny cartoons, or language you would not normally use in the workplace...unless they are central to a subject in your presentation, and help you make a point. Every element in your presentation must have a job to do.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Guillermo Salinas)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

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