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Spit and polish: Trimming your speech will win you big points


By Claudia Brogan

I once worked as speaker-coach for a highly-educated scientist who was invited to make a presentation on the topic of his professional research. He brought to our first planning meeting a script of 11 double-spaced pages. With a greeting and a straight face, he placed them on the desk. I read through the pages with great respect, then set them down with care, and asked him, “Dr. C, what are the three most essential points you want to make in this presentation?”

Silence. Finally he pointed to the 11 pages and said, “Those points.”  I then asked him, “Let’s say that one of your audience members calls home afterwards, and in casual conversation is asked what they learned that day. What are three essential ideas you want them to be able to pass along, that are crystal clear and they can share in their own words?”

That way of thinking, though it stymied him at first, led to a good clear discussion between us about how to sort through a sea of many good, possible items that he could include in his speech. We moved, instead, to find ways to narrow down that bevy of concepts and information to just the priorities, to the key ideas that he wanted the audience to carry away with them afterwards.

Or, consider founder of FunnyBizz David Nihill and how he exhorts us – by making his whole point in the article’s title – “How long should your speech be? Shorter than you think.”   Just like in the world of stand-up comedy, presentations and speeches can benefit from cleaning up and crisping up. Focus and choose clearly, both the content and the delivery techniques. Have fun, speak to the key ideas faithfully, and find ways that you can get to the point with clarity and energy. Nihill’s article reminds us to factor in the audience’s attention span as we shape our presentations.

I chuckled out loud when I read the opening question in Chris Witt’s article about trimming our speeches. “When,” he asks us, “is the last time that you wished a speaker would have gone on longer?” Touche!  A fair point indeed.   As speakers we need to learn ways that we can let go of our favorite quotes or amusing anecdotes, and learn instead to trim the content and the number of minutes in our delivery.  Mr. Witt suggests that we take these 5 smart steps to avoid the “Mortal Speaker Sin” of going over the allotted time:

  • Get to the point
  • Be able to sum up the speech in one sentence
  • Trim the opening pleasantries
  • Break the elements of your speech into what, why, and how
  • And, finally, end when you are done

That last point is a brilliant gem in itself. So often in public meetings or in Toastmasters sessions and even in recordings of my own speaking, I notice that it can be tempting to linger longer as the speech is winding down. Whether we are double-checking to see if the ideas have been conveyed, or are hesitant to let go of the spotlight, sometimes speakers keep talking well after their points have been completed.

Especially these days where information comes to us at the speed of light, think of your allotted speaking time as “prime real estate.” Think of your minutes as being finite tools that can be used well to share your key ideas. Rather than overstay your welcome at the speaking platform, consider offering three of your key points and then referring listeners to your website for even more ideas and resources. That way, with finesse and polish, you can intrigue and inform your audience, then demonstrate restraint by letting them follow up on their own.

Trimming your speech will help you clearly focus on your essential ideas and will win you points with your grateful audience.

Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you. Contact Claudia via email at claudiabrogan @ gmail.com, through LinkedIn or by phone at 404-849-5182.