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Delivering a great speech is like hosting a good dinner party

5 min read

16 June 2017

Who doesn’t love a good dinner party? Great atmosphere, interesting people, stimulating conversation, sparkling wit and sumptuous food…Mmm… are all likely to lead to a very enjoyable and memorable evening.

Throwing such a successful dinner party, of course, involves planning and preparation.

There is a whole myriad of things to consider, including the purpose or occasion, who to invite, their dietary requirements, seating plan, décor, music and, of course, the meal itself.

Not only do you need to plan the dinner party menu and buy the food, you need to have the skills and experience to cook and present it. 

The same applies to preparing a speech. It’s so easy to forget to pay attention to all the various aspects of designing, organising and preparing to deliver the best possible speech and put lots of effort into fancy – and sometimes not-so-fancy – slides.  

Just as you wouldn’t invite people for a dinner party and then on their arrival fling open the fridge to see what’s inside to cook and serve, neither should you just turn up and deliver an ill-prepared presentation.

As you wouldn’t serve a fabulous roast for your vegetarian friends, neither should you fail to consider the specific needs of the audience for your speech.  

In business, having impact is paramount to success. The business leaders who ask me to work with them to improve their speaking are mostly missing some of the elements of the “dinner party” approach, so to start we work with my 6P formula for speech success.

(1) Why have the dinner party?

Purpose of the speech

Why this topic, why this audience, why you, why now? Think about why you are speaking, what issue you will address and what solution, benefit or value your talk may offer.  What do you want the audience to think, do or feel because of your presentation? 

(2) Who is invited to the dinner party and what do you know about them?

Plan the speech

What issue might your audience face or opportunity might they seek?

Consider what they may already know, what they might be curious about, need to hear, or indeed anything to avoid. Identify the practical elements – the time you have, the size of audience and room, technicalities like mics and projection facilities and more.

(3) Designing the dinner party menu

Prepare the speech

Design your “pre-dinner fizz” – setting the scene before you speak, then your “starter” – a strong, captivating introduction.

Create your “main” – the focal point of your talk, with its “accompaniments” – stories, examples, facts, and visuals to support your message. Then the “dessert” – your memorable finish. Ensure there will be a smooth flow between elements.

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(4) Mastering the dish

Practice the speech

Rehearsal is the secret ingredient, and the thing that so many people in business do very little of. Just as you develop a signature dish from cooking it again and again, the more you practice your talk the more you hone your pace, storytelling, voice, delivery, master your nerves and improve your confidence.

(5) Serving the meal

Perform the speech

The hard work’s been done. Now it’s time to relax and enjoy the experience.

Use all the preparation and practice to now be able to engage and interact with your audience. Be yourself, focus on them and let it flow. Smile, make eye contact and pause often to allow the audience to digest each point. 

(6) Clearing the dishes 

PS – Post-speech

It’s worth remembering to congratulate yourself on a job well done!  Reflect on what went well and where you can improve further next time. Do any follow-up needed to continue your relationship with your audience such as offers, meetings, further information, promises or calls to action.

So, the dinner party starts with the guests – and your speech with the audience. Know who your guests – or audience – are, including their needs, interests and motivations for joining you. 

Be determined to meet their needs with your culinary – or speaking – skills. Plan, prepare and practice and you’ll find you may well enjoy your talk as much as that dinner party! Bon appetite!

Glen Savage is a member of Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations