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Saturday, October 24, 2020

C-Suite Agenda

Dazzling the Lifeless Lens, or How to Give the Best Speech of Your Life, Virtually

This is not your father’s keynote. You may be an experienced public speaker, but virtual is different, especially if it’s “the big one:” the speech of this quarter, this year, or a lifetime.

Perhaps you are the keynote speaker at your now-virtual annual conference, a main presenter at a big online meeting, or you are announcing a new strategy to the entire company, remotely.

Everything you relied on in the past is just that – the past. This time, you won’t see the audience, feel their energy, or hear their applause. Whether you’re delivering “live” or being recorded on video for later playback, you’ll be speaking, not to hundreds of enthusiastic people, but to a lifeless camera lens.

How will you come across as authoritative and authentic? Show personality? And how will you keep the audience engaged for 10, 20, 30 or 40 minutes, when at any moment they can step away for a snack or click “escape” altogether?

You are going to have to shatter the (virtual) barriers between you and the audience, reach through the camera, grab their attention and keep it.

Here’s how you do it.

Sit Down With The Writer(s) Early And Often 

Busy executives often happily hand over writing the first draft to an in-house communications person.  Never a recommended strategy, it is particularly ill-advised when the talk is virtual.

If you are fortunate enough to have writing help, by all means take it, but don’t let someone else write for you. Instead, they should write with you.  The audience must hear your voice, not the writer’s. The more involved you are from the beginning, the better the talk will be.

Ask Yourself: WIIFT And WIIFY?

The best talks balance the WIIFT and the WIIFY.

WIIFT: What’s in it for Them.  Your audience, that is.  What do they need and want to hear?  Why should they care?

WIIFY: What’s in it for You. What do you want the audience to remember, feel and/or do as a result of your speech?

Nine times out of ten, if I ask a client their goal for a talk, “to inform” or “to educate” are part of the answer.

Dig deeper. 

Why do you need to inform or educate? To inspire, motivate, sell, promote, move to action? Take some time to think about this.  The talk must meet audience needs and support your goal. It must intersect at WIIFT and WIIFY.

Ideas Before Facts 

The best speeches focus on messages, not data or facts.  What are the key takeaways?  If the audience could remember only three things, what would they be?

9 X 1 does not equal 3 X 3.  That means, 9 messages delivered 1 time are boring and forgettable.  You need 3 strong messages, stated at the top, to frame the talk – expanded upon in the middle – and summarized at the end.

Then, what facts support these concepts? And importantly, what “human interest” stories, examples, or analogies would help the audience “visualize” the messages?

Build an outline with this structure.  Edit out any facts that do not support a key idea or concept. Say less and your audience will remember more.

Be Surprising

Research shows people form an opinion within the first 7 to 30 seconds of your talk.  Work with your team to think of a truly unique way to “open.” For ideas on types of “opens,” Google “Best Ted Talks.”  Note how the best “opens” are unexpected and relevant.

Don’t “Write” the Script, “Say” It

When writing a talk, write for the ear, not the eye.

Following the outline you created, talk the script out loud, preferably into a phone or other recording device so it can be transcribed.  Your best speech comes from your brain, your heart — and is written in your words.

Your Communications people can help you edit, smooth out the script — after you’ve made it your own.

Create Visuals After Script

I highly recommend using visuals for a virtual talk. Create them after writing the script (to support the messages) and keep them simple – even more simple than if presenting to a “live” audience.  It’s far better to have more slides, than slides with so much writing that viewers have to squint to read. Use “builds” for showing data, and photos if appropriate.

(Perfect) Practice Is Your Best Friend  

What’s “perfect practice?” First, read the talk out loud, several times. Make edits. The best scripts are heavily edited.  Change anything that doesn’t sound or feel “like you.” The more comfortable you are with the script, the better you’ll deliver it.

Learn To “Talk” The Script Instead Of Reading It

Variety is the spice of natural speech.  Reading conversationally is about emulating natural speech.  Therefore, reading conversationally is all about variety, in pitch, tone and mostly, pace.

Where will you pause or slow down for emphasis? Where will you change your pitch or tone?  Mark up the script with underlines, slash marks, bold, caps – it doesn’t matter.  Just make sure YOU know the code.

Practice In Front Of A Camera And Watch The Video

As a former television news anchor, I can tell you that it takes a lot of practice to read a teleprompter or paper script into a dead camera eye and sound conversational. Even if you’ve had training in public speaking and done a hundred speeches, you may need to talk louder or slower and/or boost your energy, and there’s only one way to find out.

Most people tend to avoid practice and hate seeing themselves on video, so they’ll put the whole thing off until the last minute.

Don’t be “most people.”  Set aside time to practice, every day, for at least a week before the big day.

Practice showing your personality. Use hand gestures naturally. Smile at appropriate moments.

Make adjustments, and practice some more. Trust me, it will be worth it!

The Bottom line — don’t fear the virtual “Big One.” The single most important key to a keynote is you – your ideas, your personality, your vision.  If you follow these tips, you can give one of the best performances of your life.

And don’t forget to record the talk. It can live for a long time on your website.  One of the virtues…of virtual.


Commentary by Penny Daniels. Here’s what you’ve missed?

Penny Daniels
Penny Daniels is a speechwriter, executive and leadership coach and communications trainer at 3D Executive Communications. She has coached hundreds of C-suite and other executives, and spent 20 years as a TV news anchor and reporter in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Miami. Penny Daniels is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on LinkedIn.