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Boosting Your Confidence Improving Your Presentations Podcast Public Speaking Tips Special Occasion Speeches Wedding Speeches

Episode 4: The A-Ha! Method Podcast

Social Speeches: How to Give the Best Toast of Your Life

Social speeches are often our first – and most important – moments for public speaking. Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, funerals – they all require good speeches and often are what prompts us to improve our speaking in the first place. Join Gabe Zichermann and Dayna Gowan for an exciting episode in which we discuss the opportunities and pitfalls of the social speech, and how to master it on your first go around.

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Improving Your Presentations Professional Speaker Public Speaking Tips Speaking at Conferences Speaking Hygiene

Speaking Hygiene – More than showering and looking good!

You’ve been preparing for this speech or pitch for weeks, maybe months. You’ve followed the lessons of the A-Ha! Method and developed a talk that’s going to get you that promotion, land you that funding, or raise your profile among your peers. The night before your talk you’re probably filled with excitement, nervousness and dread. You practice, practice, practice and go to sleep, ready for whatever comes tomorrow – the big day. 

Professional public speakers know something very critical: your “big day” actually starts the night before. The entire 18-24 hours before your talk, pitch or keynote requires special care and planning, in an effort we describe broadly as “speaking hygiene.”

No, speaking hygiene is not about showering and smelling good (though that’s also important and the subject of another article), but it is about ensuring that your time before the talk is carefully curated to ensure you’ve got the right energy level, the right focus, and the right amount of good stress. In short, you need to think like a rockstar, and put everything into the big moment. Here are some of the most important considerations:

Sleep

Make sure you know when your talk is, and ensure you’ve got enough sleep to maximize your alertness and calm. Time changes can wreak havoc on your body, so these must be factored in as well. If your talk is late in the day or you have an immovable scheduling issue, take a nap several hours beforehand. You’d be surprised how many major performers nap shortly before taking the stage – the key is to make sure your rhythms are in sync and you can do your best.

Eat

Eating is probably a major part of your day, and it can be tempting to just treat the day of your talk as any other day for food. But because too little food can leave you jittery and your stomach growling, and too much can leave you tired and sluggish, it’s crucial to time your meals appropriately. Eat well, but not too much and leave enough time to digest. Don’t eat anything heavy or carby right before, and definitely don’t walk out on stage with stuff stuck in your teeth (e.g. from a really recent bite). But do have something sweet nearby for after your talk: cognitively challenging activities deplete the energy in our brains and glucose is the cure. 

Caffeinate

Caffeine may or may not be part of your daily routine, but you’ll definitely be tempted to slam some back an hour or two before your talk as your energy flags and you worry about being at your best. Just as with food and water, make sure your caffeine intake is optimized for the talk you’re about to give. You want to make sure you don’t go overboard and end up jittery, or go under and laconic. If you want the caffeine to kick in right before your talk, plan to consume it approximately 20 minutes prior. Similarly, if you’re giving a really long talk, you might want to have some right before getting up on stage. Regardless, don’t overdo it. I’ve been there and it’s not cute. 

Investigate

I’m sure you think you know where to find the venue, your specific speaking location, and what time to be there. But don’t assume: it’s happened to me plenty of times where I get lost or the meeting point is non-specific, and I’m rushing to make it to my call time, out of breath and anxious. Whenever you can, do a walkthrough of the precise locations you need to be at and when. If you’re at an away event, you can do this the night before. If you’re somewhere local, do it the day of. Make sure you always leave yourself an additional 30 minutes to account for any hiccups, and don’t plan your flights or drives such that you’ll arrive right before your start time. Even celebrities build in contingencies. You should too. 

Isolate

You should do as little as possible before your talk begins. If your talk is first thing in the morning, you’ll have all day afterwards to socialize, network and the like. But if your talk is later in the day, you should focus on conserving energy for your performance. Wherever possible, don’t make significant intellectually-challenging plans for the time before your talk, and keep your socializing to a minimum. Again, think like a rockstar: the performance is the priority – and the point. Focus everything you’ve got on that one goal.

And therein lies the rub: the sooner you think of yourself as “performing” when you’re up on stage giving a talk, the better. Many speakers get caught in the loop of thinking they are Marketing Director first and speaker second, but on the day of a major and significant talk, embrace your inner diva. Prioritize your hygiene and watch your performance improve.

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Fear of Public Speaking Improving Your Presentations Public Speaking Nerves Public Speaking Practice Special Occasion Speeches

A Toast to Social Speeches and How to Make Them Great

Weddings, Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties, Holiday Gatherings and Funerals are all situations in which we may find ourselves needing (or wanting) to give a speech. For many people, this is the first time they are prompted to improve their public speaking skills. For others, it is merely a nail-biting event at which we desperately want to succeed. 

Speaking professionals refer to these kinds of talks as “Social Speeches,” or Special Occasion Speeches, to differentiate them from business or political ones. The important distinction is in the name: speeches in this milieu are meant to evoke a particular kind of closeness or connection. Generally if you’re asked to speak at these events, the organizer will be less concerned with your polish and perfection, and more with your delivery of appropriately funny and/or touching anecdotes in a good spirited way. 

Whether this is the one and only time you’ll get up in front of people to speak, or just another step in your journey to become a better communicator, there are several key lessons you should observe when planning and executing a social speech.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Yes, social speeches are somewhat lower stress than professional keynotes. They are usually unpaid, often unsupervised, and – because the organizer is not usually an event professional – they are given minimal attention until the big day. Don’t let this lackadaisical and freewheeling environment fool you: to do a great job at public speaking – regardless of the context – you need to practice your heart out. If you use the approach described in the A-Ha! Method, you can save significant time and may find it easier to memorize and nail those points.

You Don’t Have to Be Funny

Film and TV tend to represent these social speeches as comedic moments. But if you don’t have the halcyon delivery of Owen Wilson or the hipster gravitas of Vince Vaughn, you may not be perfectly suited to hitting those jokes repeatedly. This is not to say that you couldn’t or shouldn’t be funny, but the suggestion is to know your voice and to embrace it. If you’re more serious, be more serious and heartfelt. If you’ve got a light touch, do that. Either way, you’ll be more successful if you embrace your own POV than trying to fit into someone else’s mold.

Shorter is Better

Most social speeches should be kept under 5 minutes. Just think about the typical wedding: if 6 people/groups need to speak, and each takes 10 minutes, you’ll be sitting there for a solid hour listening to family members and friends drone on. Take a cue from what you would enjoy and keep it to a nice tight 2-3 minutes. The shorter timeframe will help you focus and give you clarity. After all, it’s better to say one thing really well than 5 things poorly.

Grab The A-Ha! Moment

In every social speech there is typically one line: an anecdote, observation, expression of love or broader social issue, that is the memorable moment from the speaker. Much as we do when giving a keynote or conference talk using the A-Ha! Method, our process begins by thinking about those moments of connection with the audience, and then building a talk around it. This emotional high-point is the thing that will have the biggest impact, so it needs to be strong. In most social speeches, there is time for one A-Ha! Moment in the middle, and a strong tag at the end that wraps everything up and brings it together.

Strong Openings and Closings

There is a tendency for most speakers to “fill” time as the stage or mic is being transitioned to them. “Hi everyone, how’s it going?” is a great example, or mentioning the previous speaker(s) to then ease into your speech. It makes the speaker feel better, but increases the time from the switch over until your first point of brilliance is expressed. If you can, take a deep breath and launch directly into your speech without any transitional phrases. The same goes for the end: as you create the last line of the talk, make sure to clearly differentiate between the end of your talk and the start of a toast (for example). Toasts or blessings are not endings, and should be treated as separate from your core talk. 

Many professional speakers, when asked to talk about their most important talks, refer to these social speeches. You may spend your life on a keynote stage, traveling around the world – but perhaps the most important memories you’ll make will be much closer to home. So no matter where you are in your journey of improving your communications skills, now’s the right time to lean in. 

Here’s a toast to your upcoming social speeches – may you give them and give them well, and may you regale all your family and friends with your stories and talks at your next special occasion event. Cheers!

Picture credit: Canva.com