I recently poised the question, “is it possible to speak too slow while presenting“? My answer was “no”, but Brian Little’s pace of speaking would challenge that assumption. I think he picks up the pace adequately around the middle of his TED Talk, but I found my mind wandering off at the beginning. This is because he is speaking just a bittoo slowly, and because he doesn’t have a good story up front in order to attract the audience’s attention.
This changes dramatically half way through the speech. At about the ten minute mark, we get a series of wonderful, hilarious stories, starting with this gem, and the speech really comes to life. Its amazing how a few small changes can lift a speech from good to great. When it comes to presenting, the devil is in the details.
One of the trickiest parts of crafting a speech is figuring out how to start it. Some recommend launching into a story, others recommend letting the audience know where you are heading with the speech, and others suggest using a startling statistic or fact. I don’t think there is a “right” way to start a speech, but there are a few things that matter. An opener should be short, and create an immediate impact on the audience; a laugh, a giggle, a sigh, a gasp, etc. Here are a few great speech openers from some recent TED Talks:
1) Monica Lewinsky – Ms. Lewinsky is one of my favorite speakers. I really love this TED Talk. It’s chock full of courage, wit, pathos, and great storytelling. She starts the speech with a hilarious, BRIEF story about a young man who tries to pick her up at a bar. Check it out to hear his pick up line…
Needless to say, humor is one of the best ways to open a speech. If you can get the audience laughing at the top, they will be more receptive to your ideas. What makes this opener so brilliant is the way Mrs. Lewinsky manages to get a laugh out of a terribly painful and embarrassing moment in her life.
2) David Miliband – One powerful way to open a speech is to tell a story, but the type of story you tell matters. In an opener, you need to keep things brief, and personal. Watch the way Mr. Miliband uses his family heritage to make a startling point about immigration:
3) Anne Lamott – I think this opener is both subtle and startling. What’s subtle about it is Ms. Lamott’s delivery, which is pleasing, but subdued. What’s somewhat startling about it is the way she talks about her grandson’s nightmares. Openers can incorporate paradox:
So what are your favorite openers? Post here or at my twitter.
One of the biggest concerns of my executive presentation training clients in New York City is pacing. “How fast should I speak” is a question I get a lot. I tend to think you cannot speak too slow while presenting. Adrenaline is a powerful substance, and it tends to take over a speech. Without awareness, it’s all too easy to rush. But there are those that think speaking too slow is a legitimate problem while presenting. Let’s compare two TED talks, and analyze their rate of speech, starting with Laura Galante’s speech on Russian hacking:
Now let’s check out Bendetta Berti’s TED talk from 2016:
Interesting comparison on a number of fronts. I would say she is speaking much too fast, especially toward the middle of the speech. Occasionally, she will take a break at the end of each thought group to allow her thoughts to land, but in general, she is rushing through ideas and concepts. The problem is made worse by the fact that she is mispronouncing some important words, and dropping the “th” sound entirely.
I did my best to find an example of a TED-talker who was speaking too slowly. I couldn’t find one. So I stand by my original premise; you cannot speak too slow while presenting. What do you think? Comment below or tweet me your thoughts.
Let’s give Benedetta Berti her due. Her TED talk is packed with fascinating information about the way that terrorist states operate, and how to effectively combat them. I love her inventive Power Point slides, her creative use of statistics, and her rousing call to action.
But as is the case with many Ted-talkers, there is something to be desired in the way she is delivering her speech. To begin with, she is speaking much too fast. Keep in mind folks, the audience does not know nearly as much about your topic as you do. It’s important to take your time, so your concepts can really land. She also appears to be reading her speech, rather than coining her ideas in the moment. Since she is so knowledgeable about her topic, it might have been a better idea to bullet point her speech, rather than write it all out, so she could keep things loose.
I’d like to call your attention to her articulation. She is mispronouncing the “th” sound consistently throughout the speech, lending to some confusion. Is that “den” or “then”? “That” or “dat”? This single mispronunciation is a major flaw in the speech. Yes, native English speakers will probably be able to translate, and understand the mispronounced word, but what about non-native English speakers? Will they be able to parse her speech, identify the mispronunciation, and figure out which word she is really getting at? Maybe. Maybe not.
If English is not your native language, and you have a speech coming up, run it by a friend, or a coach, or your spouse… anybody who has good speech. This will allow you to identify where your articulation problem areas lie, and correct them before your big day.