How to Write a Speech that Resonates with the Audience

March 30, 2008

In the next ten minutes, you are going to learn how to captivate an audience using a simple technique that subtly makes listeners pay attention.

That technique was used subtly in the previous sentence, which was to replace the word “I” with “you.” By putting the audience in the opening of a story personalizes it for them, and therefore, connects the speaker to the audience.

Some speakers start a speech by telling their audience what s/he (the speaker) is going to talk about, by saying, I’m going to outline steps on how you can captivate an audience. Instead of doing that, it’s far more effective to tweak that sentence by saying, During this presentation, you are going to learn how to captivate an audience.

Here are two examples on opening a speech. The first is written in first-person. The second example uses you, then transitions to first-person:

Example 1: My first paid speaking engagement couldn’t have gone any worse. As I took the podium in front of 300 real estate professionals, my knees wouldn’t stop shaking. I knew I would be nervous, so to calm my nerves, I tried opening with a joke, figuring that if I got them to laugh early on, my nerves would subside. But as I delivered the punch line, there was dead silence. How does a speaker recover from that?

Example 2: Imagine that you have been hired to keynote a conference, which will put you in front of the largest audience you have ever addressed – 300 real estate professionals. You take the podium. Your knees are wobbling as you peer out at a sea of unfamiliar faces. You deliver your opening statement, which you thought was laced with humor, but it is met with dead silence. (Pause) When that happened to me four years ago at my first paid speaking engagement, I imagined I would never be hired to speak to anyone ever again. But I overcame that disastrous experience and here I am, years later, making a living as a public speaker.

In Example 2, the speaker allows the audience to visualize themselves in that situation. Similar to when you watch a movie, you are living vicariously through the character, or in this case, the speaker. By the fifth sentence, the speaker seamlessly transitions the point-of-view by saying: When that happened to me four years ago at my first paid speaking engagement… By then, the speaker has hooked the audience, and now he can talk about his personal experience and how he overcame that frightening time.

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