Real Leaders

How to Deliver a Complex Speech Without Losing Half Your Audience

Each week, speech coach and leadership mentor James Rosebush will answer a question on how to improve your public speaking

Barbara Bellafiore, CEO, Bell Media, asks: “What is the best way to begin or end a speech to an audience with differing levels of technical expertise?”

Dear Barbara,

Great question! The first thing is to make a connection and build a bridge to your audience. You need them to trust you. Start with a little story, perhaps about the use of a technical skill you have, and how you applied it to a situation — and what happened as a result. It might even be about failing in that attempt. This will make you seem human, adaptive, and available to your audience — and a little vulnerable as well.

This is your warm-up — gain their confidence first. Then, explain that you’ll be speaking about some technical terms and apologize in advance for possibly overreaching. Reassure your audience that you’ll be happy to stay around afterward to explain anything to people who want to learn more. You don’t need to dumb down your content, but make sure you use words and communicate in ways that the audience can relate to.

I remember one time, listening to a speech about systems integration by a brilliant and fast-talking woman who impressed me for her intellect, but left me reeling from her vocabulary — which was almost exclusively, new, made-up terms. I was impressed with her intelligence and my lack of it. I don’t think she cared much about relating to her audience. It seemed more about a show of superiority for her. Don’t fall into that trap. Relate to the audience around your perceived knowledge level they possess — and learn as much as you can about them before you craft your remarks. Then you are sure to win them over and educate them at the same time. Good luck!

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