How to give a speech that people remember

Let’s face it, few people actually love giving speeches. But at some point in our lives, most of us will find ourselves having to give some sort of toast, talk or presentation. The good news is that whether you are preparing for a wedding, business event or retirement party, speeches don’t have to be painful. Here are three tried and tested tips for getting the audience on your side — and maybe even enjoying yourself a little in the process.

The key to a great speech is to make the crowd feel like active participants rather than passive listeners. There are a number of ways to do this, including asking people to imagine that they’re in a particular situation, mentioning audience members by name, or even requesting a show of hands. You can also ask rhetorical questions such as ‘Have you ever wondered…’ or ‘Did you know that…?’ Sometimes, when it comes to making speeches, ‘you’ really is the magic word.

You’ve probably heard that weaving a story or anecdote into a speech is a brilliant way to engage your audience. This is totally true, but there is actually a way to make this strategy even more effective. If you have ever watched a successful TED talk, you will notice that speakers rarely tell a story in the past tense. Instead, they often tell it as if it’s unfolding in real-time, for example, ‘So, it’s 5am and I’m sitting on the plane to Mumbai...’. This has the effect of making your story feel more immediate and immersive, drawing the audience in straight away.

Know your speech inside-out. Know it until you’re bored of it. Know it until you could say it in your sleep. Some people panic at this idea, thinking that it means the same thing as memorisation. But no one’s saying that you have to deliver your talk without notes or cue cards (that said, if you can memorise it, then brilliant). However, by practising your speech aloud (ideally in front of friends or colleagues) you will get a better idea of which parts of it are working — and which aren’t. Plus the more intimately familiar with a speech you can become, the less scary it will feel to you.

Making a speech is nerve-wracking but thankfully, there are endless books, videos and online tips that can help you. The most important thing is to start preparing early. If you give yourself as much time as possible to write, refine and practice your talk, then by the time the big day finally arrives, it will feel like an old friend.