In 2001, while practicing my speech “Ouch!” in front of an Advanced Toastmasters Club, I was shocked and perplexed by a comment from two of the advanced members. At this point I had given my speech several times and had received an enormous variety of feedback. I thought I had heard it all. This comment, though, threw me. After getting many kudos and accolades for my speech, a woman approached me with a very disappointed look on her face and said, “My friend and I listened to your speech, but we didn’t feel anything.”
My first reaction was, “So?” I didn’t think it really mattered. She went on to explain that after years in Toastmasters, she and her close friend both experienced presenters, could pick the winner because the winning speeches always made them feel something. Honestly, it did not make sense to me at the time, and I thought it was very weird.
After years of watching speech contests, I get it now. Getting people to feel a presentation is not a perfect science, and I have no powerful secret to share to make sure it happens when you are presenting. Whether you are giving a corporate presentation or a motivational speech, I now believe that there is power in making people feel during your speech. I believe it is part of feeling connected with you as a presenter. Though it is not 100% fact or an exact science, it is surely something to consider. It is also part of what makes a presentation of any kind stand out and become memorable at the same time.
Using the speech contest as a backdrop to help you give any of your presentations greater impact, let’s look at the World Championship Speech Finals. Tens of thousands of people compete each year with the hope of being one of the nine finalists who compete for the trophy. I sit in the second row with many of the past World Champions. Some of us actually keep a death count. This is a tally of how many people die in the final speeches. When World Champion Ed Tate was preparing his speech in 2000, and after watching other contest speeches, he told David Brooks that he had a problem with his own speech. He said, “Nobody dies in it.” David laughed and told him that was a good thing. Though I’m not a huge proponent of people dying in speeches, I realize that if it is part of your story and the death changed you, then it should be part of your speech. If you are using someone’s death as a way to make people feel, though, it could seem like manipulation. Be careful with that.
If you have ever been at any of our live boot camps, you have heard one of our little secrets from me or one of the other World Champs. We teach that before you create the speech, you need to ask yourself, “What do I want my audience to do, think, or feel?”
While learning speech writing from author Vince Antonucci, I heard him put a powerful twist on that creation secret. A pastor, as well as an author of four books, Vince says, “What do you want your audience to do, think, and feel?” Wow, one different word changes everything. When writing his weekly sermons, as well as when he’s writing books, he strategizes for the doing, thinking and feeling of his audience. Brilliant.
After attending several speech contests over the past month, I realized that when a speech includes someone’s death or a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, I had better feel it as an audience member. If you don’t make me feel a dramatic event like that, then something is missing from your storytelling.
Here are some things to consider when looking at your own presentation. Are you using enough you-focused questions? When used properly, they will help listeners engaged. Are you narrating your stories when you could be using more dialogue? This can also be a way to help people feel your message. Are you showing the reactions of the characters when telling your stories? Often, showing a reaction creates more feeling in the hearts of audience members than anything you can say.
Your audience is not going to feel anything if they do not feel a connection with you first. That starts with your mindset and the intention of your presentation. You must connect with yourself and be in the moment before the audience will connect with you. I now understand what those two women meant when they gave me that weird feedback. It was weird to me back then because I did not understand it. If it is weird to you, perfect.
Awareness is the first step; it was mine, too. When you ask for feedback on your presentation, ask people if they felt anything during your speech. If yes, clarify what and when. If no, perfect. Now you know what you need to work on. Ask yourself and your speech coach, “What can I do to help them feel my story or message?”
Do you feel me?
Please share your thoughts below!
I remember hearing that no matter how much your story is dramatic, sad, etc it must contain something the audience can take away – it has to give them something – an “aha moment” or at least something to get them to think about how it could pertain to them. I was feeling very red hot on a story I wanted to share because it had such meaning to me but this made me change my whole perspective. Love your tips and sharing!!
I felt you. I felt every word you have written in the article. It was great experience showing the way. Thank you.
Balaji Nagabhushan, DTM
Hey Darren! We District 44 Toastmasters are the ones who feel like rock stars because you spent your weekend with us! Thank you for connecting with us and sharing your amazing experience and wealth of resources with us! I will thank the Lord for you every time I see your daily quotes in my inbox!
Once again a great article and one to be considered on a deeper level. I recently has a similar experience that gave me my “aha” moment in speaking.
After I entered a Evaluation Contest, the target speaker came up to me afterwards and said, “thank you for your evaluation, you gave me goose bumps”. No trophy can achieve the “goose bump” feel.. So those ladies were right, the audience needs to feel your story.
So from now I work towards those “goose bump” moments in every presentation..
Once thank you Darren for keeping us in line with our speaking…
Again you nailed it Darren. Having been at numerous speech contests as a contestant, judge and audience members the speeches that had a great emotional impact were the winners. Speaking is in a way very similar to acting: just like an actor has to convince the audience that he is the person being portrayed the speaker must convince the audience to buy into it all emotionally.
YES! If I cry, then you win. That’s my secret to picking out the front-runner. Gosh, I remember when David Henderson made me cry, both during his speech AND during his contestant interview. I said the the guy sitting next to me, “For goodness sakes, give the man his trophy now!” Clear winner, in my book. Even if he hadn’t won the trophy, he changed me.
Excellent as always!
Thank you sir,
I often feel that people dying during a speech is a copout. They’ve chosen that story because they know it will tug at heartstrings. I will usually knock off some points when there’s a death in a speech, UNLESS it is so organic and so real I can’t ignore it. It’s like with Tall Tales. If the ending is “and then I woke up.” you won’t be one of MY top three. It’s trite and it’s a cop out. Some people will now yell that I’m biased and shouldn’t be a judge. Show me a judge without any biases, and I’ll show you a dunce or a robot.
I like to call it a “magic moment”, if there isn’t one in an international speech I think it will likely lose to whoever does have one. You know when there is one because you’ll get goose bumps (as Jennifer says) or a chill down your spine. I have no idea at all how to write a magic moment, still learning.
Great article! VERY insightful. The weirdest comment I ever received was the suggestion to use a gun as a prop! In the speech, I had described how my father had taken his life. It was the most outrageous suggestion I’d ever heard. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether a suggestion or comment needs more consideration. There have been many, in retrospect, that suggestions were good, but at the time, I simply was not able to absorb. In the case of the gun, no further consideration was necessary.
I agree about the emotions. Several years ago a young attorney won the international contest and there was a death in it. But we felt the emotion of the story, se saw him playing with his young friend, the scene continues to play in my head of snoopy and the red baron shooting. The guy sitting next to me was crying his eyes out. How did it make me feel, wow,
Are you saying its better to feel nothing? What it am going for empowerment? I don’t want the audience to feel sorry for me or you, just excitement at the possibility of being able to fix something?
Love your speeches and teaching. Thanks
Some time ago now a lady member of a Toastmasters Club I am a member of, was giving us a Club level speech. She lost where she was up to, in the story she was telling. After a short period of silence, she asked the audience …”where was I?” Somebody in the audience mentioned the last three to four words that she had said….. she then said “Oh, Yes” and carried on with the speech.
In the past when I could not remember the next part of my speech, I have had to finish the speech at that point. But the way she handled it, has given me the message that, that the way she handled it, in her club speech, could be a way that I could do so, next time it happens to me.
Prior to that night, I had not considered that as a proposition.