Make Your Speech a Journey of Active Discovery

This blog entry focuses on public speaking engagements where your audience members aren't adoring fans, there to hang on your every word and get your autograph at the end...In other words, it's for most public speakers and the speeches they give.

As speakers we need think about our speech as a gift we give to the audience. One part of that gift is the information in our conclusions. But after we figure out our final destination (our point), most of our focus should be on the way we get our audience there.

Another way to think about it: ask the question, “what value am I adding? How is presenting this information as a speech giving more value than if I had just passed out a bulleted list?” I think part of answer lies in keeping your speech a journey of active discovery.

We've all experienced speakers who “recite” speeches by rote, rather than “live” them. You hear it in the monotonous cadence, the lack of focus on the audience, the feeling that you're listening to a filmstrip recording from junior high health class, instead of a real person. This passive approach not only fails to add value, the negative impression it creates on the audience subtracts value. It's like a drive across my home state of Kansas, each hour of flatness adding to one's ennui and existential desperation. Sounds harsh, but it's not an uncommon problem (either for novice speakers or veteran drivers of I-70.)

How do you avoid that monotonous feeling? Maintain a sense of active discovery so that your audience has chance to feel like it's growing with you.

Remember when you were constructing your speech? You spent a lot of time honing your points, your examples, your conclusions. When you were writing the speech, this was a period of active discovery: you tried ideas out, went with some, cast a few away, refined others. That's great work! But that's not the end of it. Speaking in public isn't just about talking about your conclusions (at least, not most of the time.) Rather, it's about sharing a journey with your audience so they can arrive at those conclusions with you.

Now, to be sure, I am not suggesting that you recite your speech so that you mimic the way you worked on it. But I am suggesting that you reenact the sense of discovery and connection you found when you wrote the speech for your audience.

Your speech is like a fishing expedition. What are you trying to bait? The audience's interest. You need to put forth an idea, give it space for the audience to absorb it, add some details to hook the audience further into the world you've painted, and then sweep them up with your conclusion. In joke writing you call this, “setup, anticipation, and release.” In dramatic writing you call it, “premise, inciting incident, rising complications, denouement, and release.

By breaking your teaching points down into questions and discussions that lead to your point, you can help the audience go on a journey of active discovery, instead of passive listening. The question-answer approach naturally builds in points for the audience to absorb and process your ideas. Your audience will be more engaged and, as a result, retain more information. They'll also have more fun along the way. And so will you.

This is just one of many ways to engage your audience. What works best for you will depend on what your comfortable with and the kind of audience you're looking to reach. To craft your own approach, contact MUSE today for a free assessment.