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Sam Davidson's blog

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The Worst Thing You Can Do When Giving a Speech

Other than vomiting on someone (which has never happened to me, knock on wood), the worst thing you can do when giving a speech is to tell your audience to be something. I'm not innocent of this. But, having spoken over 500 times in my life on a variety of topics, I've learned that an audience walks away with less when I tell them to be something. They gain a lot more from my time on stage when I tell them to do something.

For example, after a 30- or 60-minute speech, if the audience is left with any of the following key points, my impact on them has been minimal:

  • Be passionate
  • Be yourself
  • Be the best
  • Be authentic
  • Be ready for anything
  • Be hopeful
  • Be honest
  • Be unique
  • Be a leader

While well-meaning, simply telling anyone the above leaves them no different than when they walked in the room before I started talking. Who among us doesn't want to be authentic or passionate or honest?

Instead, your talk becomes more valuable when you offer ways that people can live out any of the above advice. For example:

  • Don't tell someone to be a leader. Walk your audience through a process to determine ways they can lead in an existing job or social setting.
  • Don't tell someone to be unique. Give her a plan where she can discover her strengths and why those are a competitive advantage to her when looking for a job.
  • Don't tell someone to be passionate. Offer him six questions to consider the next time he feels stuck in life.

The speeches we all remember - and the only ones worth giving - don't merely tell people how to be; they challenge us all with something to do. Then, when we set out on the course offered from the stage, we can finally become who we want to be.

Action shapes being, not the other way around. Inspire your listeners to act - this is your chief responsibility when given the privilege of speaking into a microphone.

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