Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Give your audience a break

Go out there and knock 'em dead!
I once attended a casual cookout to celebrate a gentleman's extraordinary achievement. He was invited to say a few words.

I was standing near the back of the small crowd. As the chicken grew cold and the ice cream melted, a friend wandered next to me and whispered, "Are we up to the Civil War yet?"

If you are ever called on to say a few words, please don't tell your life story.

Bill Murphy Jr., a journalist and author in Washington DC, offers some worthwhile advice for these occasions:

1. Strip it down. There's an unfortunate temptation in a short speech to try to cram everything you have to say into a short time. Instead of trying to make the time fit the speech, however, recognize that you have to make your remarks fit the time allotted. If you've got five minutes to talk, you shouldn't have more than three main points.

2. Plan and rehearse. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that short remarks require less preparation. In fact, giving a good short speech can be harder than giving a long one.

3. Cut yourself off. In the history of the entire world, I don't think anyone has ever said, "I wish that speech had been longer." So keep track of time, and by all means don't ramble. If you've run out of time to make a major point, either work it into the questions people have for you afterward, or send a follow-up note to the members of the audience.

4. Use milestones. For a five minute speech, you want to organize in roughly one-minute intervals, and you want to offer milestones to the audience at the top of each minute. You get one minute for your introduction, during which you explain what you plan to say. Then you get 60 seconds each for your three main points. That last 60 seconds can be used either for a short conclusion, or as a buffer in case you run long.

Think how much you appreciate speakers who respect your time. If you suddenly find yourself arriving at the Civil War, shut up and sit down.

As a courtesy to you, I condensed Murphy's piece. Read it all here.

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