Will your speech be a success?

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Lots of different public speaking programs claim the ability to help you be a successful speaker, to be able to make people love you and adore you. With the exception of Oratium (which is more about presentation architecture than on-stage charisma), I’ve not found any that address the fundamental flaw in most speaking programs.


The fundamental flaw goes back to a direct marketing concept first created by Bob Stone in 1967. Stone simply said that direct marketing was a matter of three things in descending order of importance: list, offer, creative. If you don’t have the right list, your campaign will fail. If you don’t have the right offer, the list won’t respond. If you don’t have the right creative, the offer will not be noticed.

Let’s take Bob Stone’s framework and apply it to public speaking. Who is the list? It’s your audience. It’s who is in the room. If you have a canned talk, a topic that you’re known for (or want to be known for), you have to figure out whether the people sitting in the room even want to hear about it. If it’s not deeply relevant, it doesn’t matter how good a speaker you are or how good your speech is, they won’t care. Choose your audiences with care! Some audiences and some shows, no matter what the speaking fee is or how important the attendees are, simply are not good fits, and you should pass them up. If your topic is relevant to the room, then you’ve cleared the first and most important hurdle.

The offer in Stone’s framework is the content, which in the speaking world is the content of your speech. The best speakers I know adapt their talks heavily to who the audience is, to who will be in the room. Jay Baer is a master of this – he even rewrites entire books for specific industries. I recently delivered a talk to SpiceWorld, an IT developer (and now IT marketer) conference, and it was written expressly for the IT marketer, filled with nerd references, and tailored to the audience so that they would understand the relevance of what I was saying. Make sure that your speech feels like it was written for the crowd you’re with, and that crowd only.

The creative in Stone’s framework is the delivery in the world of speaking. As is the case in direct marketing, the delivery, or how you speak, is the least important of the three areas. It’s still important, but if you’ve got the wrong audience and you’ve got the wrong content, how well you delivery it will be irrelevant. Conversely, if you have the right audience and fascinating content, people can excuse mediocre delivery. This is where speaking programs that focus on tonality, umm and ah counting, etc. can come in handy, to add some polish to your delivery, but a good voice lessons class or acting class can do just as much good (and probably be significantly less expensive). Much of how I learned to speak came from modeling my martial arts instructors.

Audience. Content. Delivery. Get them right, in that order, and your speech stands a much greater chance of being a success!

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