Capturing Your Audience: (Part II)

Previously, we discussed the components of speech preparation and delivery that will make your presentation shine when you are addressing your association audiences. However, the speech only becomes truly vibrant when you tie all of the pieces together and package them into a compelling presentation. Remember humor helps freshen content, movement keeps the audiences’ eyes on you, inflection and varied speech patterns offer interest and variety and pacing of pauses and energy emphasis all add professionalism to an otherwise ordinary speech.


Now it’s time to fine tune. Here’s how to structure a new speech to get it from the basic raw content stage to the polished delivery stage:

When working on a new vignette or talk, develop the habit of reciting it to yourself repeatedly – while waiting in an airport lounge, driving the car, walking through the park — until the words form into a harmonious pattern with which you are comfortable. Then, dictate it on a tape recorder and have it transcribed on paper. Now undertake the tightening, fine tuning, polishing process – checking for grammatical errors, deleting unnecessary words, highlighting the punch words and finding the emotion you want behind the words and match with your gestures, facial expressions and movements.

By now the speech is in a sufficiently refined stage that you can run it by close friends or associates for their feedback. (This is a reciprocal act, by the way, and you’ll be expected to return the favor when their talks need a dry run.) Keep an open mind to constructive criticism, continue to make refinements, add pauses or gestures to draw in the audience and insert ideas from others that enhance the integrity of the material.

Once you have a completed script of your new vignette or a completely new talk, proceed to final rehearsals until it is second nature to you and you can relax with it in front of your new audience. Even then, if you detect an audience response that tips you off that a lighter moment is needed, add a laugh or a pause or facial expression that stimulates a better response the next time you deliver the talk. It’s important to “read” the audience every time you present the same material, always looking for a way to add pace, spice, energy and polish to keep improving the presentation. Try it – you will be amazed how dynamic a speech can become by doing your homework dutifully and taking the time to craft it into a polished piece of work.


If your material is well-received, it is likely you will be invited to address other association audiences with this speech. If this happens repeatedly, you’ve probably found it is often difficult to make it seem spontaneous and fresh. Frankly, it takes high art and hard work. In such cases, you have to adopt techniques that convey your enthusiasm and spontaneity with this material. For example, you have to know how to “search” for a word on stage and make the audience believe that word has escaped you for a moment. When there is a laugh or an emotional catch in your voice, you must make your audience feel it. Believe me, the most successful actors do just that, and as a successful performer, you’ll find such technique refinements to be just as imperative for you.

The techniques which I have been relating in these articles work as effectively in developing a new speech as they do in the continual polishing of existing material. Remind yourself about humor, movement, voice, pace and drama to improve your presentations until they become second nature to you and your presentation. Then should you arrive in a potentially disastrous situation at an engagement – jet lagged, stressed, sleepless or coming down with the flu – you have techniques to rely on, that you can switch to in order to guarantee that you will deliver a top notch performance. So, continue to work to change your talks from all angles – humor, words, movements, pauses – so that you never become predictable, because that means boring. The only thing any of us want is to be predictably good!


We have been discussing techniques to avoid lulling your audiences into a state of boredom. But what about the prospect of you becoming bored with your own material after you have presented the same talk a zillion times to various association groups? I’m sure I am not the only one who will admit to sometimes getting tired of my best stories. That’s the main reason I work with coaches and I encourage you to do the same.

Top professionals in virtually every field – sports, business, negotiation – rely on coaches to improve their performances. A good coach introduces an objective perspective and offers input that can refresh and enhance your presentation. I never fail to come away from a session with a speech coach without gaining some exciting new ideas to spice up my material. As a result, one of the single most valuable benefits you will get from working with a coach is getting to see your material from a different light, providing the opportunity to become attracted to the “retuned” material all over again.

A coaching session often provokes me to ask myself, “Am I funnier now that I’ve worked with a comedy coach, or is it just that I learned to find the humor in my existing speeches?”. Probably the latter. The same goes for sincerity – am I a more sincere speaker because of my coaches? No, I’m as sincere as I have always been. However, the techniques I’ve learned make the audiences perceive me to be more sincere – consistently. And from the coaching experience, I have learned more about the refinement of my craft and that there is more art to it than I had ever imagined years ago.


As you work to perfect your public speaking capability, you will find that there will always be a world of opportunity for continued improvement. It is true that the more you know, the more you have yet to learn. Despite my years of professional speaking, I remain continuously aware that I am not so much an expert on any topic or on performance ability, but, rather, that I am a consistently enthusiastic student. I want to learn how to make every speech I deliver better than before.

And this is my aspiration for you as well — that you become a committed and enthusiastic student of the art of public speaking, so that whenever you present to your next association gathering, you feel confident that you have mastered the material and that you own that audience. Very few experiences are more gratifying than the rousing ovation you receive from an admiring audience at the close of yet another successful speech!