Ever heard a woman give a brilliant speech, only for the guy following her to get up and say nearly the same thing?
“We are delighted to ….”
“Our company is well positioned to ….”
“This occasion marks …”
All of these are fine phrases, when used with sincerity. But when two speakers talk about the same subject, repetition quickly stifles the impact.
The problem often begins with company politics, a large number of stakeholders or a PR person too shy to tell management attendees will be bored. Rather than focus on the messages attendees need to hear and who can express them best, a speaking order is created to accommodate as many personalities and egos as possible.
The aforementioned PR person is now tasked with crafting speeches to suit each personality and the occasion, while not letting each speech step on the toes of the other. In the worst cases, rather than stepping on each others’ toes, these speeches seem to piggyback off of the first speech, edging closer to rhetorical collapse with each repetition.
There’s a great article on First Round Review about how if your product demo is about your product, it is bound to fail. The underlying principle is that speakers should always consider what their listeners need to hear. Not always what they want to hear, but what they need to hear: what will motivate them to keep pushing; what will inspire them to find a new solution to an accepted problem; what will encourage them to embrace a new strategy as a cause they can own and benefit from.
Sequencing influence and impact, an insight from leadership studies, explains this well. Leaders are encouraged to specify the exact impact they want to have on their team and then tailor the method of influence to fit that specific objective, whatever it may be. Likewise, when determining the messages for a speech, think first about why you have gathered your listeners and what you want them to learn or do.
Next, edit. Unless you have been fortunate to stumble upon the single most important message the speaker needs to convey, odds are you will need to edit down the list to the most important messages. A hierarchy can be useful here. Instead of engaging in the psychologically painful task of cutting messages, rank them into priorities, or a sequence.
***A final note about messages. Often times speechwriters will reach for a company’s list of key messages, but be careful not to over-season the speech. Remember, overuse is the second fastest route to achieving cliché status, after insincerity.
Now that you know your messages, divide the top priorities into two groups for your two speakers. Often a thematic division makes most sense, but you could also divide them according to timeline.
Horses for courses
To get the most effect for your messages, they have to come from the right person. Remember as well that different speakers bring different things to the process. While one may be your best orator, another may have the most gravitas, while another still may have the strongest relationship with your listeners.
To prepare your speakers, create a list of messages for each that is mostly unique, with one recurring theme. While each speaker needs to have one main point to make, the entire event can also have one main objective, which can serve as your recurring theme.
A quiet word
Once the messages are ready, the speakers selected and the speeches written, have a quiet word with each of your speakers. While senior executives are notoriously stingy with their time, be sure to coach each of your speakers about the significance and role of each of their speeches. Most executives understand the value of a strong presentation and while they may not have time to pull a full King’s Speech prep session, they will appreciate a succinct 30 seconds explaining how their speech helps the firm and builds their reputation.
To summarize, when you have multiple speakers at the same event, these three steps can make sure your listeners are engaged from the first word to the last.
- Prioritize your messages into one or more hierarchies.
- Select your speakers not just on their speaking ability but on their relationship to the audience as well as the topic.
- Give your speakers confidence in the significance of their message, both for them and the company as a whole.
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