Beware of Babbling Speeches

The ability to speak at length on any subject isn’t necessarily a virtue when it comes to making speeches – especially if a speaker goes off point.

I was prompted to think about this topic by a client who told me how – in an effort to get past her nerves – she experiences an almost involuntary inability to stop talking once she takes to the floor.

Far from being unique, this is a common tendency and almost always results in audiences switching off for large chunks of time.

And it put me in mind of the sage advice contained in the Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler:

“You’ve got to know when to hold’em and know when to fold’em…”

Absolutely. Sometimes more isn’t better, it’s just more!

While there are no hard and fast rules on how long a speech should be – here are a few essential guidelines you should bear in mind:

# 1 Don’t aim to share everything you know with your audiences

Just because you have a great deal of knowledge on a given topic, never assume that others need to catch up with you before they’ll be capable of getting your arguments.

Although there are those who’ll argue that if enough muck is thrown against a wall, some of it is bound to stick…

…Brain dumping is rarely a good plan. Here’s why.

Quantity can drown out, or even cloud altogether, essential messages you want your audience to get and apply.

Truth is – there’s only so much detail most of us can absorb at any one time.

Subjecting an audience to oodles of detail that they can’t use soon is a waste of time. Even if vaguely interesting, few will even try to remember what you say. Why should they?

With everything else that’s going on in our far too busy worlds, most of our brains are already quite full ‘thank you very much’ and the last thing anyone needs is more stuff.

# 2 Think simplicity every time you make a speech

Less is more when you speak.

The more messages you include in your presentations, the less likely your audience is to figure out what’s important or to remember anything at all.

“But there’s so much more I could say”, is a common retort to this idea.

And while in most circumstances this will be true, I say “fahgettaboudit and remember this…

…You need to make it easy for your audience to get your messages, put them into action or to share them.”

Anything that gets in the way of making this happen – like asking your audience to think about tangential issues or less important information – has the capacity to reduce your impact as a speaker.

Steve Jobs summed this up nicely when he spoke about the power of simplicity:

“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains”   BusinessWeek, 1998

And he was quite right. One of the reasons some speakers don’t do enough work on simplifying their messages is that it can be hard work.

But it’s work that’s worth doing – because if you don’t, you’re expecting your audience to put in the hard yards. And all too often you’ll find they are neither willing nor able to do this.

How do you Guard Against Rambling Talks?

Share your thoughts.

What approaches do you use to help simplify your messages and increase their impact?



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