Speeches are not small talk

Many of my clients are hard-driving, Type A people. I like that about them. In fact, I think of myself as Type A–adjacent: I can drive myself as hard as the next person to meet a deadline, but I also know enough about myself to schedule in rest and even relaxation. (Okay, okay, I’m working on it.)

But when you’re speaking to people who don’t know you, you can’t just barrel onto the stage and start spewing words at the audience. Even if they’re good words, outlining great ideas. You have to introduce yourself.

I don’t mean, “Hi, my name is”—someone else will do that before you come onstage. I mean, you have to let your audience know who you are.

Many of my clients think of this as small talk. They eschew small talk in their daily lives, so why should they engage in it when giving a speech?

It’s not small talk in a speech

I finally came up with an analogy that resonated with one of my Type A folks. Perhaps it will resonate with you, too.

When you go to a networking event, you don’t just walk up to people and start giving them your elevator pitch. Do you?

Why not?

Because you understand that until someone knows/likes/trusts you, they’re not going to care about what you do.

It’s the same thing with speeches.

This is not about meaningless small talk. Whatever you say must relate to the body of the speech you’re about to give. It must add value: by giving people some insight into your personality, how you got to be doing what you’re doing; by expanding people’s notion of what’s possible—in a similar way that the idea you’ll be discussing will expand their notion of [whatever your big idea makes possible].

If your personality is best described, as one of my former clients’ was, as “waking up in the morning ready to bite the ass off a bear”—I’m not saying you have to suddenly become cute and cuddly. That’s not authentic, and people will know that. But use it. Make a little joke about how people think you’re fearsome and tell us about how you teamed with some of your people to create this innovation you’re here to talk about.

You don’t have to turn the audience into Dr. Phil. We don’t care about the loss of your teddy bear when you were three. But we do care about what brought you to the height from which you’re speaking to us. Show us your humanity; let us care about who you are and we’ll care much more about what you’ve done.