Part 2 in the series, “Writing and Delivering the Dreaded After-Dinner Speech”
Here are three more tips to ramp up your public speaking success.
Dress a step above the group. Even costuming is part of your speech preparation. You need to make the audience understand that you are the focal point, that you are the one deserving its attention, and that you are the one with the message. Personally, I don’t care if it is a writers’ club meeting, a post-dinner address to the Kiwanis Club, or even a gathering of high school students and their parents who are visiting the university campus where I teach, I wear a dress shirt and tie, sport coat, dress slacks, and shined shoes. You have to “look the part” if you want the audience to value what you will be saying. Never underestimate the impact of visual image.
Don’t clutter the talk. Too often when people are not trained speechwriters, they try to pump up their limp writing by presenting a series of quotations from other people. Don’t do that. One quoted reference is plenty (if that). The audience came to hear what you have to say. Also, don’t think you are going to impress people by rattling off lists of “startling statistics,” because the human mind just cannot register abstract numbers. Don’t tell us the percentages of children who were maimed or left starving or were killed due to poor working conditions during the Industrial Revolution. That won’t impact us. Instead, if you tell us a tragic and moving story about one little boy named Oliver Twist, you’ll hold us spellbound. We don’t “get” numbers, but we do “get” people.
Vary your method of delivery. After-dinner speeches are not sermons or lectures. They are meant to be uplifting and entertaining presentations. Hey, these folks have labored all day and have just consumed a big meal. You’re going to have to work in order to keep them awake and paying attention. As such, keep your audience alert by presenting it with a range of stylistic engagements. Use exaggeration and understatement. Consider inserting some satire or irony. Drollness, absurdity, spoofs, wit, sarcasm, and even imitation will provide variety. You cannot surprise or thrill or excite an audience if the listeners tap into your “pattern” and anticipate your punch lines. Don’t let listeners figure you out. Force them to stay alert.
Now, all of the above tips also work if someone approaches you and says, “I’ve been asked to give a speech at our company’s retirement party this year” or “My parents are celebrating their golden anniversary and I’m supposed to give the post-banquet talk” and then they ask you to write the speech for them. Yep, same rules apply, except in that instance you’re going to bill them.
Dennis E. Hensley, PhD, gives lots of speeches at such venues as the Maranatha Christian Writers Conference (Michigan), Write to Publish (Illinois), Midwest Writers Workshop (Indiana), Writing for the Soul (Colorado), Inland Northwest Christian Writers Conference (Washington State), and the Mad Anthony Writers Conference (Ohio). His latest book is Jesus in the 9 to 5 (October 2013, AMG Publishers).