How to Speak With Impact

As we emerge from lockdown, our speeches all risk sounding the same because work from home has denied us fresh perspectives from travel, interactions, etc. How can I stand out from the crowd?

Just last week, I decided to begin a speech with a focus on something almost everyone has experienced — and you referenced in your question — lockdown madness and its effects on our families. The idea may sound boring, but people never tire of hearing about the struggles and just plain color of the stories experienced by others. Trust me; it works to reveal your vulnerabilities and humorous mistakes that are self-deprecating. While it’s approaching borderline boring to talk about the pandemic, you still have some runway on this. We may not have been traveling to exciting places or even holding employee meetings on-site, but we are still humans — and remember, humans relate to other humans as long as they are relatable! Next, pivot away from the opening pandemic small talk to something you experienced years ago or predictions for the future. Don’t forget to substantiate your stories and statements by featuring quotes from people wiser than you. Keep your energy up and be hopeful. This is the time for that. People will remember you for it.

Humor in a speech is risky, but those who get it right capture the audience’s full attention. What should I consider before attempting this approach?

I don’t generally consider myself to be a jealous person. The one exception may be listening to an audience convulse in laughter at a joke shared in a speech — given by someone else. Sure, I make my attempts at humor, mostly self-deprecating and personal, but I’m always fully aware of the risk of falling completely flat. Just last week, at a Winning Your Audience book talk, I started with a little laugh-seeker that worked. Boy, did my confidence rise. I could feel my adrenaline kick in. The rest of the speech was a cakewalk. I had made the audience happy. My old boss, Ronald Reagan, got a delivery of new jokes once a week from a well-known stand-up comedian. But even with this stable of new material, they didn’t always work. I have three rules I share with my coaching students: 1) If you are not confident the joke will work, drop it like a hot potato. 2) The best jokes are self-deprecating and will not only make the audience laugh but relate to you; and 3) Make sure you try out your material on your spouse, best friend, or dog. If they don’t laugh or wag their tail, mark that joke for the trash bin.

James Rosebush is founder of the Intersection Impact Fund, a best-selling author, speaker, and CEO of GrowthStrategy, a corporate advisory firm. He managed the Reagan White House Office on Impact and has a personal passion for coaching executives to speak like Ronald Reagan. He has also enjoyed unique access to Queen Elizabeth II, from which he has learned much about leadership.

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