I don’t know who said it first, but here is my favorite quotation about public speaking: “The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.”
I love it because it touches on a fundamental — but not obvious – question: “Why do we give speeches?”
I agree that you speak to change the world. Specifically, the goal of any speech is to lead, sell, or build relationships.
We Don’t Speak Merely to Inform
Purely informative speeches should be taken out behind the shed and shot. I was working with a banking associate who told me about a monthly meeting in which she was required to speak for an hour about the group’s results.
“How can I make these monthly presentations more interesting,” she asked me. “Everyone hates them.”
Everyone hates the presentations because the act of standing up in front of a group and delivering the information adds no value. As a result, the presentations bore the listeners, who would prefer to read the information in an email.
To Lead and Be Accountable
I just finished reading a new novel called “The Man From Beijing” by Henning Mankell. It’s a fascinating mystery that explores China’s drive to become a free market power. In one scene, an intellectual reads a five-hour speech on the need to reform. He is speaking to the assembled Chinese political power structure, several hundred people.
My initial thought was “Good grief. Who would want to listen to someone read a five-hour speech? Couldn’t everyone just read it in their hotel rooms?” But the speaker wasn’t just delivering an analysis. He was also holding himself publicly accountable.
Sometimes we give speeches to make a public stand and to say, “This is my point of view. If you want to disagree with me, I’m here. Take your best shot.”
A couple of years ago in this column, I recommended the book “Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges” by Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner. One of the things I loved about the book was that it answered a question that I had always puzzled over. “Why do we have oral argument?” After all, the arguments are already laid out in briefs.
But Scalia and Garner point out that speaking publicly adds persuasive weight. Standing up and speaking before a judge, they write, “provides information and perspective that briefs don’t and can’t contain.” Listening to oral arguments allows judges to determine whether the advocates are “trustworthy, open and forthright” as well as “likeable.”
People aren’t just persuaded by logic. They’re also persuaded by whether they trust the person making the argument. And to get that trust, the audience must look you in the eye.
To Build Relationships
An attorney once asked whether I thought writing articles was a good form of business development activity when compared to speaking at industry events. “Not really,” I said. “How many business cards do you gather from writing articles?”
The point is that when you speak, you’re in touch with people. They get to know you and vice versa. You plant the seed of a relationship that can grow.
Next time you have to give a speech, ask yourself “Why am I speaking?” Are you planning to change the world?
Joey Asher has worked with thousands of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.”