5 Keys to a Solid Talk

First of all, in the context of this blog specifically, I think the word “speech” is extremely formal and can act as an immediate shut off valve for the ears of your listeners. “Now we will have Jason ascertain the stage to deliver his 47 minute s p e e c h.” As speakerswe should want to engage the audience before we even take the stage, setting ourselves up for success. Therefore, regarding the type of message we’ll be building today with these mysterious “5 keys,” we are going to refers to what we construct and deliver on stage as a “talk.” Kind of like a Ted Talk. Okay, exactlylike a Ted Talk. Just remember when reading this we aren't talking about a research based speech you would write for the Prepared Public Speaking Career Development Event… at all. This pertains more to the retiring addresses, keynote at a banquet, guest speaker at an alumni conference and welcome address at a county 4H bake sale kind of thing. Before we start with our list, there’s one more thing I’d like you to know. These five keys are in no way an original thought of mine or a list I thought up using my own experiences and creative mind. These five keys have been strong assets to nearly every memorable talk I've witnessed or have heard about and have been repeated as essential by multiple world renowned speakers I’ve talked to, including one of FFA’s very favorite, Josh Sundquist.


There is literally nothing worse in the entire world of public speaking than sitting in an uncomfortable auditorium chair listening to someone talk all about them. When someone’s talk centers wholly around them as an individual, it becomes literal work for any audience to listen and stay engaged. Now, be aware that this does not mean that you can’t have stories in your talk about your own life and thing’s you've experienced. In fact, it’s recommended you do so because you’re more likely (100% certain) to have been there. Just make sure that when delivering you have a clear idea of what your listeners should be taking away from your message and paragraphs don’t become personal memoirs from the life of “you, yourself, and I.”


A lot of times this can be one of the most terrifying aspects of developing a talk, however, in my opinion I believe it’s the easiest. Start by asking yourself questions like: “What did I wish someone told me earlier in life?” “What’s a lesson that’s helped me grow the most?” “What have I learned that I think everyone can benefit from?” These are just a few to get you started. A lot of times good ideas for the main message of a talk can come from simply observing people you truly respect or admire. I’ve learned more about life from hanging out with my Grandma Dorothy than I have from any book I’ve ever read. My general rule with choosing a message to speak on is that if it improves the lives of the people listening, it’s perfect.


This one seems simple, but can be challenging when actually constructing a talk that accomplishes something with an audience. The difference between the two is that with examples you've got to state your point and then follow it with examples. To the contrary, you deliver your entire story first, leaving the audience in wonder and THEN drive your point home delivering maximum impact. Essentially: stories lead, examples follow. With stories come emotion and emotions are what make human beings different than any other species on this earth. Emotions bond us together and make us feel connected. People won’t remember what you said or even how you said it, but they will remember how you made them feel.


Once you decipher what you actually want your message to be you’ll need to come up with stories that exemplify that specific point. The stories you choose to represent each point will be remembered more than the point itself. I’ll say that again. People remember stories, not points. Therefor you want to be extremely intentional when choosing your stories, because if they remember the story then through that they will be able to connect it to the message you were trying to send. While it’s mainly up to your discretion as the speaker to choose what stories you’ll use, there are a few guidelines I follow that help me immensely. First and foremost, use stories you know, particularly one’s you were there for. I know what you’re thinking, “Alright blog writer man, you JUST told us not to talk about ourselves…” To that I’ll reference the notes in the paragraph above. Just because your stories have you in them, it does not mean they have to be about you. Secondly, choose stories you love to tell to your closest friends. Allowing vulnerability in your talk will build trust with your audience, allowing your points to sink in even further. Lastly, have a variety of genres. You don’t need to keep the crowd rolling the whole time, nor do they need to look like a 14 year old Jason Wetzler throughout the entirety of The Notebook. Have a balance of happy, sad, moving, comical, feel-good, inspirational and whatever other genre you can think up.


A story is only as good as the person telling it. One of the reasons it is so vital to select stories you were a part of is so that when you tell it, you’re not just retelling a story, but more so reliving the story on stage for your audience. As speakers we should be the world’s best story tellers. Sometimes that means being as animated as possible, creating suspense, tension or humor. Other times it simply means reliving the story with the same amount of emotion every time you tell it as you had the day the story actually took place. If you’re telling a story about a time your parents were extremely disappointed in you, recalling those feelings of shame and embarrassment to the fullest extent can completely transform your story and how the audience perceives it. Say that we as speakers measure the impact of our stories on a scale from 1-10; 1 being they’re completely disengaged and are not following and 10 being they’re lives have been transformed and they’ll never forget what you said. If we want our audience to be at a solid 8 while listening to our story, then we have to be delivering it at a 10. How you deliver the story is just as important as what story you choose. While this may not be the end all be all of speech writing, having these 5 keys in your talks will help make them effective, engaging and memorable.

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