Giving a “Talk” vs. a “Speech”: Top 5 Talk Tips for 2016

Giving a “Talk” vs. a “Speech”: Top 5 Talk Tips for 2016

Recently I had the opportunity to share some public speaking tips with a group of high school students who are part of a local church group and were preparing for an open-house event to welcome new students. A few of the members would have the chance to give a talk to the visitors to share their story, the value the group had played in their lives, and invite the new students to join. In the end, it all boiled down to one big question: How can you share something you’re passionate about in a way that persuades others to get on board?

Maybe you’re opening an annual executive retreat. Maybe you want to address your team at the holiday party. Or maybe you promised your kid’s teacher that you’d participate in “career day.” Regardless of the setting, two things are universally true:

First, your goal is always the same: to persuade and influence. You have something important to say, and you want others to understand why it’s important and join in your vision.

Second, one cultural change has become “the new normal.” It’s rare that we are called to make a formal speech in the traditional sense: in some public forum, on a stage, with a podium and microphone, under the heat of a spotlight. Nowadays, it’s more likely that instead of giving a speech, we will find ourselves with an opportunity to “give a talk” to a group. (Think about it: have you ever watched a “TED Speech” on YouTube?)

One way or another, at the end of your talk, you want to know that you got through to your audience, and that your words landed with the desired impact. Here are five tips for giving a top talk:

    1. A “talk” is different than a “speech.” A talk is conversational, engaging the audience; a speech is formal, talking to (and sometimes at) the audience. If you want to recruit someone to join your vision, team or idea during these less formal scenarios, give a talk.

  1. Rule of thumb: It’s not about you! Of course it’s your story, and you do want to include personal examples or experiences where possible, so it is about you, technically, but the objective is to get the audience to see themselves in your story. To make them think, “I want to feel/experience/be part of that.” Were you ever in their shoes? How did you feel, what made you nervous or excited, and once you made the shift what were the benefits or lessons learned? How does it impact you now? They need to know.
  2. Know your audience, and speak to their desires as well as their doubts. (See the previous post about different kinds of audience members.) Remember: Your audience usually includes a variety of people with different perspectives on your topic; you can’t assume they all feel the way you do from the start, but you do need to connect with them all, whether they are:
    • Enthusiasts — your low-hanging fruit, easy to bring them in; build on their optimism and interest
    • Skeptics – They may be curious with various degrees of questions or concerns. Acknowledge, reassure, encourage and welcome them.
    • There under protest – Some people are there in body, but not in spirit. They attend out of obligation, have preconceived notions of what you’re going to say, may stare at their smart phone the entire time, ask “gloom and doom” questions or try to shoot holes in your idea. Try to acknowledge with where some of their misconceptions may come from and do some “myth-busting” where possible.
  3. Heartfelt is better than perfect. Be honest, be human, allow for mistakes in your delivery. Allow yourself to emote (but not totally lose control.) Even laugh at yourself when possible. It makes you relatable. When you start to feel nervous about delivering your talk or making mistakes, remind yourself, “this isn’t about me, it’s about them.”
  4. Outline and rehearse – but don’t read or memorize! Try not to write out your whole script. Don’t worry about writing the perfect essay (which is also not the same as a speech OR a talk) and memorizing every word. If you read it word for word, it will sound mechanical, like someone reading their “what I did on my summer vacation” essay. That doesn’t feel relatable to an audience. Just put down key points, and practice a few times with a video camera so you make sure you don’t ramble and speak for 10 minutes when you only have 5, fidget too much, or say “um” or “like” all the time. Make adjustments to your outline, or notes to yourself (e.g. “don’t forget to smile!”) etc. Again, you don’t have to rehearse until it’s perfect, just until it flows comfortably, even if a little different each time. Remember: imperfect is relatable, and relatable sells.

So next time you get nervous about speaking in front of a group, check yourself: “Nope, I’m not going to speak to them, I’m just going to talk.” Use these guidelines to organize your thoughts and prepare, then go out and be the best “you” you can be. If they buy into you, the rest is easy.