The Secret Ingredient Your Speech Is Missing

Photo by Marcos Santos

Wanna know the super-secret magical ingredient that can make or break your presentation?

It’s energy. Without it, your speech is doomed. With it, you may be able to compensate for a talk that’s light on insight.

It took me a while to figure out what energy is. I remember a rehearsal for my very first scripted stage show. The director kept yelling, “Rob, keep your energy up!” and “More! More energy!” and finally just “ENERGY!!”

He wasn’t quite the explaining type, but I later came to understand the concept of energy and how it contributes to a better performance, whether you’re acting in a role or playing yourself in a conference room.

Here are seven things you need to do to put energy into your speech and keep your audience’s attention.

  1. Be here now. Devote 100% of your attention to being present in the moment and attending to what’s going on in front of you. If you’re distracted or phoning it in, your audience will recognize it before you do.
  2. Really focus on what you’re saying. Deliver every word with meaning and intention. If you don’t believe, they won’t believe.
  3. Bring the passion. Speak with enthusiasm and conviction. If you’re not excited about what you’re saying, why are you even up there?
  4. Stand up. If you have a choice, stand. If you’re on a panel of people seated behind a table, lobby the group to ditch the table and use stools instead of chairs. If you absolutely have to sit, perch on the edge of your seat. Or do that thing you did when you were a kid and excited in class: fold one of your legs under you and sit on that. It keeps you from relaxing too much and has the added benefit of giving you extra height (putting you — literally, if not figuratively — head and shoulders above your fellow panelists).
  5. Turn up the volume. Some people believe volume is a substitute for energy. (I’ve seen a lot of bad improv comedy shows that are testament to that.) It is not. But it’s an important factor in energy. So speak up. Play to the back row. It will make it easier for people to follow what you’re saying and it will automatically give you an energy boost.
  6. Put your senses on heightened alert. This is critical to reading the room, to understanding where your audience is and to making real connections with them. Make eye contact, listen, work to feel what’s going on around you.
  7. Engage your audience. The audience’s energy is an important factor in your energy. But that doesn’t mean sitting back and waiting for their good vibes to flow over you. Sometimes you have to energize them. You have to give to get. So if they’re looking bored and listless, ask a question, lead them in an exercise, get them on their feet. Just having people spend a couple of minutes working their way around the room and shaking hands and greeting each other can go a long way toward turning the energy around in a room.

Without energy, you’re making your audience work extra hard to care about what you’re saying. And that’s a bad situation to be in — for you and for them.

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