How to Design an Engaging Live or Virtual Speech

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When they need to deliver or design an engaging live or virtual speech, many speakers go about it the wrong way. A successful speech is more than 45-55 minutes of you talking on stage or through a video chat service. It’s about interacting with your audience and keeping them engaged throughout your entire speech.

Seasoned speaker Kevin O’Connor and I recently discussed how to create successful engagement with your audiences. Kevin is an Academy Dean for the upcoming NSA-IL Spring Speakers Academy and holds the CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) designation. Fewer than 600 persons in the world hold this earned honor for speaking and teaching excellence.

Speak In Segments

Most great speakers’ speeches are actually made up of eight- to 12-minute segments. They’ll have eight minutes about one idea, 12 minutes about another idea, and so on. They mix and match them according to what audience they’re speaking to.

Kevin thinks that many inexperienced speakers don’t operate that way when they attempt to design a live or virtual speech. They think that they should write each speech in its entirety as one unit.

Then, many make the mistake of memorizing the speech almost word for word. That’s a mistake because then it sounds memorized, almost robotic. If they’re interrupted or lose their place, they’re in trouble. It doesn’t sound like a teaching experience; it comes off more as a “look at me” experience.

On the other side of the coin, experienced speakers come off as expert educators who want to teach their audience something of value that the audience does not yet know. They are connecting with their audience and drawing forth knowledge – creating a simultaneous story with them.

You can create segments by writing down ideas as they come to you, then come back to them later.  Even if you’re not sure when or where you’ll use the ideas, write them down. You can figure that out later. The great news? When you do this, you can repurpose your segments individually or recombine them as new speeches, blog posts, podcasts or other forms of media.

Have Dessert First

When Kevin spoke in Romania, his host would have dessert before dinner. They get “sugarized,” creating an immediate connection — they have great conversations and don’t even need drinks to do it!

What does this have to do with speaking? The experienced speakers tell their audiences right away what the conclusion of their speech is. They share what they want their audience to learn. Then, at the end, they share the conclusion again, which creates informational bookends. In this case, instead of spending their speaking time hoping their audience “gets” the main lesson that the speaker is trying to get across, they give it to them right up front, which makes for a better learning experience.

How To Keep Your Audience Engaged

Even a loving audience is always thinking “So what?” “Can you help me solve my problem?” or “Can you help me improve my condition?” They might not even realize that they’re thinking it, but they are.

If they ask a question such as “Can you tell me more about that?” what they’re really asking is “How does this apply to me?” As a speaker you want them to be thinking “I understand what you’re saying, and I can apply that to my life.” To elicit that response, you want to involve them right away – even virtually.

Design a live or virtual speech to involve your audience early and often. Before you start a virtual presentation, have your audience go to the chat box and share something like Conor Cuneen’s classic “Tell me the first live concert that you went to and how was it for you?” or “Your favorite city in the world and the memory of it in one word” or some other fun, easy-to-answer question.

The question doesn’t have to be related to the content that you’re going to present; the purpose is to get them engaged by having them do something. In the case of the concert question, it’s something that everyone has experience with. If you don’t do that, people are disengaged before your presentation starts; they’re just staring at their screen or working on something else.

After they put their answers in the chat box, remark on a few of their answers or ask them questions about their answers. Immediately, the audience gets two things: Connection and inclusion. They’re also probably thinking, “This presenter doesn’t seem so bad, he’s actually kind of fun.”

Before being introduced to this approach, Kevin used to ask questions about the topic of the presentation, such as “When is the last time that you experienced _________?” At least part of the audience couldn’t think of an answer, and it was NOT fun. Audiences want to be connected and included throughout your presentation. Staring at your PowerPoint for more than eight or 10 minutes is too much. They want you to get them involved.

Kevin shared a unique technique to use the next time you design a live or virtual speech . Tell your audience that you want them to go to the chat box because you’re going to ask them a question BUT “don’t hit enter after you type your answer, wait until I tell you to. I’ll give you one minute.” Now you’ve broken the monotony of staring at PowerPoint slides. At the end of the minute, tell them to “hit enter.”

What happens next is called a “chat box waterfall.” Everything comes in at once like a waterfall. At that point, everyone has contributed and said their piece, which they would not do verbally. If you have a 30-minute program, you can do a chatbox waterfall every 10 minutes. When you involve your audience, you can have a conversation with them instead of worrying about your presentation.

If you give a presentation, you’re worried about you; if you have a conversation, you’re concerned about us.

Stories make your key points stick in the memory. A chatbox waterfall is composed of the audiences’ stories. Content gets forgotten unless wrapped in a story, analogy, or metaphor.

Closing Strong

Don’t just close with “Does anyone have any questions?” If there are no questions, it gets uncomfortable for everyone very quickly. Have a strong close, using “dessert first,” that wraps your message up so that if the ONLY thing they remember is the last thing you said, you’re giving them something valuable to remember.

Send them off with hope that they have a new solution to a problem. You can even be direct and say, “I’ll be taking questions in a moment, but here’s what’s most important, here’s what I want you to think about.”

Timing is everything. Plan your close so that you know exactly how long it will be. If your close is seven minutes and your time is coming to an end, the audience doesn’t know that you have 20 slides left. They only know what you tell them. Don’t say “I’ve got a lot of slides left so I’m going to go quickly.” Go into your close, respect everyone’s time, and focus on the message that you want to leave them with. Audiences of all stripes love to end early if only five minutes … the kid in us all!

Test these proven strategies the next time you design a live or virtual speech to engage your audience and make a bigger impact. If you’re interested in learning more great speaking strategies like these, check out the upcoming NSA-IL Spring Speakers Academy Program!

About The Guest

Kevin has been speaking professionally since 1976 primarily to physician and nurse leaders as well as to healthcare executives 90 times per year. He holds the CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) designation; fewer than 600 persons in the world hold this earned honor for speaking and teaching excellence. He is a Certified Virtual Presenter and a Certified Virtual Host and has co-authored 8 books, the last three on presentation effectiveness. Kevin has dreams of riding horses bareback, though he has not found a horse with that exact goal yet.

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