All of the speechwriting and rehearsals, all the time you spend studying gesture and breathing, are designed to prepare you for your audience. When you get onto stage and deliver your presentation, you want to be at your absolute best. The truth is, however, that only one thing really matters: whether anyone remembers you.
In other words, if you pore over every detail of your speech, but fail to make it memorable, you’ll have wasted all your effort. Of course, what you write and how you behave on stage will all contribute to making you memorable – so all your preparation will be useful if you pay close attention throughout your rehearsals to how your audience might perceive you.
How can you second guess your audience? The best way is to imagine you’re speaking to just one person – not only does this make the interaction easier to predict, but when you’re onstage it will give your presentation a sense of intimacy. If you were talking to an individual, how would they respond to what you’re saying? How could you convince them to remember your words?
Very often, that will be about telling a personal story. Being memorable is often about seeming to matter. If you can make your speech relatable in some way, it is much more likely to lodge in their minds – just as if you were talking to a friend. Be passionate and personal.
Of course, a story – and a speech – that is too long will very quickly be forgotten. That means you need to be disciplined in terms of content, pruning and editing as you write your speech so that you don’t waste a single word. Keep things short and snappy and your audience is liable to stay awake while you are speaking. They won’t remember anything you say while they’re sleeping!
Whatever you say, make it musical. Vocal inflection and intonation are key tools in varying your delivery in such a way that your audience don’t zone out. There’s nothing more off-putting than a monotone, so don’t make the mistake of droning. Keep things light and airy by varying the pitch and emphasis of your voice.
Most importantly, choose one or two key points and make your audience feel them. Use your writing and your voice to direct their attention to your main arguments, and associate those key moments in your presentation with a feeling. We humans tend to remember emotions more than facts – so make use of that.
The key is that practice makes perfect – but if you get lost in the technicalities of your own particular speech you may forget the real focus of your efforts: the audience. Always consider them, because otherwise you may lose them. Be memorable, or you may as well not speak at all.