The Magic Formula for your Next Talk

I speak because I like the sound of my own voice,” is a phrase that you don’t ever hear. However, a different take on this, “He must love the sound of his own voice,” is quite common. Why? Those with poor communication skills, who nonetheless speak to audiences (big and small) might as well be reading the phone book. Their message, if they have one (and most people do) is lost in their lack of clarity, and their voices drone on without a receptive ear.

I can’t count the number of times that I have endured a talk, a lecture or a presentation that was nothing more than an “expert” in a given field reading a paper that could have easily been posted to the internet and downloaded for reading at a more convenient time. I have on numerous occasions witnessed a VIP speaking to a room full of other VIPs who have (by no fault of their own) been lulled to sleep by the droning voice of an invited guest.

We spend our valuable time listening to experts and speakers with the hope that we might receive something deeper than the written word can offer. The speaker has the grave responsibility of assuring that the audience receives just that.

Written words can certainly be inspiring, but a passionate message communicated with clarity by a knowledgeable speaker can rouse a sleeping audience to action – and action, not intention or inspiration, it what can change the world for the better.

We speak when there is a message that needs to be heard, and if an audience is willing to give us their time and their ears for five minutes or an hour, we have a responsibility to assure that our message is communicated clearly in a manner that calls the audience (whether that is 3 people or 3000 people) to action.

There is a formula for delivering the perfect speech, talk or presentation every single time. It is this.

Because X, we can Y by Z.

Martin Luther King Jr. used this formula

Because X [all men have been given a blank check and the promise of freedom, but, for the black man, this check has been returned for insufficient funds], we can Y [make justice a reality for all of God’s children now] by Z [peacefully demanding change and justice immediately from those who oppress the black people].

This was Kings message, nothing more. And what was the result? Those who heard it took action, and action that made a tremendous impact in the world.

The message in a 12 step group is always some version of, “Because [we know that addiction leads to pain and suffering, but we are not alone in our addiction], we can [heal from that pain and mend the wounds that addiction has caused] by [following a proven path toward recovery]. With this message, lives are changed world-wide, one person at a time and week after week, because the message (when conveyed with clarity) leads to change.

So, what is the trick? The formula alone isn’t magic. There are a few elements that are necessary if you want to affect change (and you should only be speaking if you want to affect change!).

The Three Magic Elements

  • Passion: If we don’t believe what we are sharing with our audience, then we can’t effectively convince others to believe what we are sharing. Perhaps there is a good actor out there who could “pretend” his way through the passion, but this isn’t common. The reality is that I can’t convince someone to give to a cause if I don’t give to the cause. I can’t teach other people to become compassionate if I am not compassionate. People will not follow me toward a goal if I am not on my way toward that same goal! Passion will only be transmitted to your audience if you figure out how to effectively convey your own passion.
  • Clarity: Passion by itself isn’t doesn’t matter at all if people can’t make sense of what you are saying. You can work people into an emotional frenzy, but if you haven’t refined your message to the point where your audience can repeat your message back to you, then you have wasted your time and your audience’s as well. There are a multitude of tools out there to assure that you clarify your message (the repetition of refrains, telling memorable stories, asking for audience feedback), but whatever technique you employ, you have to assure that your message is clear, and that people can tell you what it is. Don’t be afraid to gauge your clarity by asking a few people to share what they learned after your talk.
  • Emotion: All of the passion and clarity in the world can lead to intellectual agreement with what you have to say, but it isn’t until the speaker makes an emotional connection that the audience is spurred to action. If the cause you are promoting brings you joy, then your audience needs to be able to see that. If the product you are pitching has relieved your anxieties, then show that. If you are truly grieved by the problem that you are describing, be sure that this is communicated. People respond to the messages that other people share, and if you can’t let “who you are” shine through, your chances of connecting are slim.

Dr. King’s “I have a Dream,” speech was certainly fueled by passion, clarity and emotion, and without these, our world might look very different.

A successful talk will certainly follow our formula, “Because X, we can Y by Z,” every time. Test me. But without passion, clarity and emotion, your message won’t have an impact, and in the end, that’s what matters, right?

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