Be In the Moment
It was a moment I pray for as a speaker.. The speaker before me made a comment about my hometown, Cincinnati Ohio. If you’re not familiar with Cincinnati, there is a belief that our city is slightly behind the times. In fact, Mark Twain is reported to have once said “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always twenty years behind the times.”
When the speaker before me made this comment, my ears perked up. I had to use his words about Cincinnati as fodder for my opening comments..
When I was introduced, I started with these words:
“Clayton, I really appreciate the work you put into making this a successful event. But I have to tell you, I’m pretty offended by what you said about people from Cincinnati.
He was taken aback by my comment. His expression told me he was concerned – what had he said that was so offensive?
I continued, “Most of my life I’ve been listening to people criticize Cincinnati as being too far behind the times. As I was driving up here in my Ford Pinto (at this point, several people in the audience laughed), I popped in an 8-track tape into my dashboard(even more laughter). The speaker on the tape talked about the importance of connecting with your audience. Insulting their hometown is certainly not the way to do that. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to listen to the entire tape because I got lost. I had to stop and look for a payphone so I could ask for directions to get here.”
At that, the audience roared with laughter. As I began my regular talk, one of the audience member said “I like you! You’re really funny!”
Keep in mind I hadn’t said one word of my prepared remarks, and I already had people in the audience liking me.
I don’t tell you this because there’s something special about me. I tell you because there’s something very special about being able to call back to the words of people who speak before you and incorporate them into your speeches.
I would not have been able to make such a quick connection with the audience if I hadn’t been prepared – knowing my material well enough so that I could pay attention to what was going on in the event. If I had been fretting over what I was going to say, rather than focused on the speaker before me and the audience, I would have jumped into my material and missed the chance to create that memorable moment.
So often people labor over writing their speeches, they forget that it is the unexpected moments that are often the most memorable.
Does this mean you should just wing it?
Absolutely not. In fact, this underscores the importance of knowing your material so well that you can go “off-script”. Internalizing your message gives you have the confidence of knowing that you can talk about something completely unexpected, and – if the opportunity arises. You can make your comments, and then return to your prepared remarks.
Do you know your material so well, that you can make side comments or observations on the spur of the moment?
To take advantage of these unexpected opportunities, practice, drill and rehearse your material. Internalize it. Then, look for places in your talk where you can inject comments about others.
For example, a couple of years ago, I was giving a speech called Put the Fun In Your Funk. It gave the audience ideas on how to inject humor into their lives in difficult times. In my opening remarks, I give examples of common, frustrating situations that put people into a bad mood. One of those examples was children.
As if sent from heaven above, the speaker before me – my friend David Levy – talked about an experience with his son at an amusement park. His son wanted David to ascend to the top of a 105-feet tower, strap himself into a harness, and jump from the top of that tower. This didn’t seem like a good idea to David. As the rest of the story unfolded, the audience roared with laughter.
I knew I had to incorporate this part of his speech into mine. When I used my standard opening about everyday experiences that frustrate you, I said, “What is something that aggravates you – Your boss? Traffic? Your kid – who begs you to jump off a 105-feet high tower?”
The audience laughed loudly, and I returned to my regularly scheduled speech. It was a great way to start, and we had a connection right from the start.
Want a shortcut to creating interest in your speech?
Know your material.
Pay attention to the words of the people who speak before you.
Then, if the opportunity present itself, inject a relevant comment centered around those words.
Do this, and you’ll shorten the time it takes to connect with your audience.
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