There’s a story about Picasso that goes like this.
A man interrupted Picasso at dinner and said “Picasso, could you draw something for me? Name your price.”
Picasso grabbed a napkin and with a few strokes drew a cat – a Picasso-level cat.
The man reached for the napkin.
Picasso said, “That’ll be one MILLION dollars.”
The man said, “But Picasso, it only took you 30 seconds to draw.”
Picasso crumpled up the napkin into his pocket and said, “No it took me 40 years.”
This isn’t that napkin.
And it wasn’t a cat.
It was a goat.
My point is: it takes a long time to produce something great in a short time.
I’m no Picasso.
But what I learned in the last four years is I can create a good speech more quickly.
Because I wrote more speeches, rewrote more speeches, practiced more speeches, delivered more speeches, and got more feedback.
I added more tools to my toolbox.
And sharpened the tools I already have.
I reflected on my public speaking from the last four years. I’m a much better speaker in 2022 than I was in 2018. If you watch any of these speeches and remember them, it’s because of the tools I developed to create a good speech more quickly OR the ridiculous amount of time I spent developing that particular speech.
I still need more tools, sharper tools. Last year I created a speech evaluation toolkit. I’ve written about most of these topics before (speechcraft, books), but there’s new material. And it might be nice for speechcraft zealots to have ten tools in one place.
Symptoms and Tools Summary
Here’s my evaluation toolkit list.
Focus on the symptoms on the LEFT.
Most speeches are for information, entertainment, or inspiration.
I would add tools to my toolbox top to bottom.
You need to engage before you entertain, although you can entertain to engage.
It’s easier to get people to act on your message when they’re engaged and happy.
Below each symptom, you’ll see a test in parentheses ().
The test is your criteria for whether you’ve mastered this section.
From top to bottom, what’s the first test you can’t pass consistently?
Is your audience hanging on your every word?
Is your audience laughing, smiling, and happy when you’re speaking?
Is your audience completing the actions you ask them to do?
Once you narrow down the category, then you can pick which tool from the RIGHT list to add to your toolbox.
Bonus – Why are you speaking?
Upon reflecting on my reflections, I realized I rarely question the purpose of people’s speeches and I should. Calling you out on why on earth you’re speaking about your garage door replacement project feels mean. It’s important to you. But is it important to your audience? Public speaking isn’t therapy. If you take people’s time, give them a gift. Often our purpose is weak, unclear, un-engaging, or uninspiring. So read this second draft article or better yet, read the first chapter of my Better Presentations book or just pick a compelling topic for your audience so have a damn good answer to “Why am I speaking?”
1. Ask questions
Why ask questions?
Because we like answering questions.
And when we can’t answer them, it creates an empty block in our memory for you to fill in with the answer.
More engagement. More retainment.
Like this image.
”Why are dogs better than cats?” “Dogs bark when there’s a fire. Cats tiptoe out the back door.”
Create the bucket.
Fill the bucket.
Also, remember to pause after asking a question.
If you steamroll from question to answer, it’s not a question.
It’s a statement disguised as a question and you fooled your audience into thinking they’d have an opportunity to engage. Not good.
Practice asking questions when someone asks you a question.
No one does it.
It’s easy to ask a question to start many of your responses by rewording the question to get more information or tweaking it into a yes/no question for the audience.
Just do it.
2. Make eye contact
In-person we all know eye contact is key to engagement.
Virtually, most of us know to look at the camera.
It’s hard sometimes because you can’t see your audience’s reaction without looking down.
Look down when you need input from your audience. That’s 1% of the time.
Look at your camera the rest of the time. 99% of the time.
And raise your laptop up so it’s eye level.
Don’t look down at the camera. We see your chin. Not good.
Don’t look up at the camera. We see your nostrils. Less good.
It’s easy to say, look at the camera.
It’s hard to look at the camera when you need to look at your notes.
I use notes. We all use notes.
Once a year memorize your speech.
Make us want to listen to you when you stare deep into our eyes.
3. Cut, edit, cut, edit
I gave a whole speech and wrote an article on editing a couple years ago at mattdever.com/edit.
Go watch that. Go read that.
Read The Elements of Style by Strunk. 60 pages.
After that, the next time you have a speech, edit your down to the bare minimum.
Then send it to someone else whose writing you like and ask them to cut it down.
Ask them put track-changes on.
See what you get back and what they cut that you didn’t and ask: why?
Repeat with every draft until you’re dead or stop writing — which is almost the same thing.
4. Gesture naturally
Sometimes, we overdo it on gestures.
If you practice public speaking with others, don’t take your safe space for granted.
How would a non-speaker view your speech?
Unless you’re competing, don’t optimize your speech for neurotic speakers.
Optimize for normal people.
And all this gesticulating madness does not look normal.
If a gesture doesn’t feel natural, practice it until it is natural or cut it.
Videotape your speech and assess whether you’re overdoing it.
We’re not mimes.
Let your words and voice do most of the work.
Use gestures naturally.
Read more on gestures.
5. Pace like a pitcher
Think of yourself like a baseball pitcher.
Sometimes they pitch fast, sometimes they pitch slow.
First, have a game plan.
Check your word count for your speech.
Most of us have too many words.
Then we’re rushing.
We’re not pausing.
Aim for one-hundred twenty words per minute.
A bit less or more is fine.
Seven-hundred to nine hundred words is your range for a seven-minute speech.
Second, look at your speech and consider where you want to add excitement.
Those are your fastballs.
Write “FAST” into your speech text.
Third, look at your speech and ask where you want to draw people in.
That’s your change-up. That’s a slow pitch.
Write “SLOW” into your speech text.
Record yourself saying those lines FAST and SLOW.
Read more on pace.
6. Pause more
So we remember what you say next.
So we laugh at your punchline.
So we think, “Why did he stop talking?”
Pausing is important.
Pausing is power.
Confident speakers don’t rush.
They take their time.
It’s easy to say.
Here’s how to do it.
This is when to pause.
I won’t read these.
If you’re virtual take a screenshot.
If you’re too slow, they’re in my presentations book on my website.
Write your speech and let the whitespace and punctuation guide you to pause.
Bold key points for longer pauses.
Take another screenshot.
Write pauses into your speech.
Find a technique that works for you.
Practice breathing and counting in your prepared speeches at those pauses.
Use different pause lengths for different purposes.
You can see suggestions in the sub-bullets under bullet three.
Remember to pause longer before major points, conclusions, a story that might make people want to cry, or after any particularly long sentence.
Breath plus count (in your head) “1, 2, 3, 4…”
7. Tell me a story
Take a moment to look at the twelve steps in this picture.
Doesn’t this seem like every eighties movie you ever watched?
Rocky. The Karate Kid. Star Wars.
This is The Hero’s Journey.
Be careful learning this technique.
Sometimes it’s damn annoying to know the movie is hitting step 7 “approach the inmost cave”.
It kills the surprise.
But the formula is the formula for a reason.
If you want to be a storyteller, learn what’s worked for millennia.
8. Add humor
If you want a formula for making people laugh, I don’t have a flowchart.
Try and fail. Try and fail.
Write something you think is funny. Test it. Fail. Try again.
I hear people saying they’re not funny.
Saying you’re NOT some label seals your fate.
When Chris Rock tests his material, sometimes he’s not funny.
Sometimes he bombs.
But you don’t see that on TV.
And you wouldn’t call Chris Rock ‘not funny’, even though sometimes he isn’t.
We don’t need to be Chris Rock. We just need to try.
On my team at work we have a bad joke tracker.
We’ve set a low bar for telling any jokes.
Because we know if we tell enough bad jokes, we’ll eventually tell some good jokes too.
Even bad jokes make you laugh at how bad they are.
Just give people a reason to laugh.
Write bad jokes.
You can learn more by watching funny people and reading funny people.
Search for books or articles and you might find one good idea.
But you have to try. In your next speech, aim for one joke, one laugh, one smile.
Then increase that number in future speeches.
If you hit one smile or laugh per minute, you’ve hit the mark.
Read more on humor and go watch Netflix.
9. Record yourself
Recording your speech won’t just help the conclusion.
The whole speech will be better.
But you can start with just the conclusion to save time and discomfort.
Recording your speech is uncomfortable at first like you see in the image.
It gets easier.
By the time you listen to it ten times like the next image, your memory will be stronger.
You can perfect your timing.
Listening to your speech is just like listening to a song.
There’s a reason we can remember songs for years.
We listen to them over and over again.
For your conclusion, you need confidence.
Ridiculous, powerful, emotional, Jedi-mind trick unblinking eye contact confidence.
Even if its bad.
(And most likely your conclusion will be bad, we’ll get to that next)
Still record yourself.
Listen to your recording every day for a week or two and practice saying the words perfectly.
Deliver a powerful conclusion with confidence.
10. Write five conclusions
Everyone’s conclusions suck.
Most of the public speaking world champions.
Everyone except Churchill, JFK, MLK, and maybe Lincoln.
Do you know how many conclusions Hemingway wrote to A Farewell to Arms?
And Hemingway is a great writer.
So you and I can write our conclusions five times.
Instead of just repeating a summary of what we already said.
Because if you made it past the other nine tests, you are not a beginner.
We can do better.
I read a book, The Pyramid Principle that gave two options or what I’d call tests for conclusions.
Here are your options.
- A compelling set of words that produces the right emotion in the reader to make them need to act.
- The immediate next steps
These are tests for your conclusion, not what to write.
Does my conclusion create the emotion to act?
Does my conclusion provide an immediate next step?
I like combining these two criteria for an inspirational speech.
Make the immediate next step as small as possible.
Don’t tell everyone to go buy an electric car to save the planet.
Ask them to buy a peace lily.
Maybe ask a better writer to rewrite your conclusion.
Keep rewriting until you find a tolerable ending.
Write your conclusion 5x and over time, your conclusions will be less terrible.
You don’t have to stop at five.
But like I said, “Make the next step as small as possible.”
In fact if you don’t like five, just write two conclusions to start.
Make your call to action smaller and more realistic to influence more people to act.
Read more on conclusions.
If you haven’t written a speech in a while, block a half-hour. Write 500 words. If you can’t think of a topic, instead write ten ideas on what you might want to speak about. Or steal one of my ideas.
- Cookie Monster
- Cookies or squats?
- Climate change and the impending doom of humanity
- Nuclear game theory and the impending doom of humanity
- Taylor Swift and the impending doom of humanity
- Dragon Ball Z hair-styling mastery
- Pearl Jam
- Inflation as a function of the boom/bust cycle and the importance of timing your birth to retire in a prolonged boom.
- How much does free will cost?
Keep getting better.