We have written, and will continue writing about public speaking and pitching in great detail, but let’s focus on the basics for a moment. Let’s focus on content. Any speech or pitch needs content, it needs a topic, points, and a way to convey those points to the audience in an interesting and effective way. So how do we memorise a speech and make it natural? In my opinion, this question is contradictory in its nature.
To learn or not to learn
When thinking about our speech, we can visualise the perfect way it should go. We can visualise the lights illuminating our handsome face, our outfit – stylish, not too casual, not too serious, and the words coming out of our mouths – all of them crafted, accurate, rich. You can ponder your speech for nights on end, choosing the perfect words to illustrate your points, to link your points in a flowing, logical manner, and write a perfect speech. What’s it good for if you can’t remember it? What’s it good for if one detour, distraction, or error will throw you off your track? What’s it good for if you just spent the whole week on your speech and neglected your work duties?
A perfect speech on paper doesn’t mean a perfect speech on the stage. Let’s go through all the possible problems with this approach. First of all, memorising a whole speech is problematic. It can take a long time, need rehearsing to be effective, and most likely, needs another person’s feedback on the way it’s coming out. Just because it’s good on paper doesn’t make it good in practice. For the sake of the argument, let’s assume you have your speech memorised. It took you a few days, a few rehearsals with another person, but you got it. You can stand up in front of the mirror, and do your whole speech perfectly. Great, now you have to go up on the stage.
It may be 10 people, it may be 100 in front of you. Suddenly, you feel some nerves, after all, all of us do. Someone has a coughing fit. You mumble a word, and someone giggles. You stop. Where were you again? The problem with running a memorised script is that once you are thrown off guard, you may get lost. For this reason, a lot more work is needed. If you ever watch a TED talk, you will see that these guys and girls are very clearly scripted, and for good reason. Some of these talks may be their first of their life – they are an expert on something, or they have a unique experience or perspective worth sharing. For some, it’s the most important talk – it may contain the findings of their whole life’s research and work. For all of them, it’s important, TED talks are a brand in and of itself, with millions of views online. It’s worth preparing. Going up on that stage, they better be sure that even if someone is having an epileptic fit in the audience, you can get your punchline out.
How to give great speeches with minimal time investment
For pitches and speeches when it’s not worth making a TED-talk-level time investment, which by the way, is probably 90% of them, a simple and natural approach is best. Just talk. Learn the structure of your presentation, make sure the topics and themes are in order and logical, and make note of what are the most important keywords to point out and describe in detail. If you know that you are going to give a certain pitch or speech tens of times, this approach allows you to perfect it organically. You will build a script by noticing what works well, what doesn’t work well.
We like people with passion.
Passion is authentic, it shows a commitment to what we are talking about. You know the saying “his/her eyes lit up”? When we ask someone about their hobby or their passion, their eyes light up and they are ready to tell us everything that we want to know. If you are truly passionate about the product you are pitching, or the ideas you are giving a speech about, try and capture this passion. By using a list of key points that you will bounce off, you are allowing your authentic passion and interest to convey what is the important for the audience, in the most natural way.
Pick the right tools for the job
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare at all. Rehearsing is not doubting oneself. I’ve met quite a few people in my time that were adamant that they didn’t need to prepare. The truth is, some of them were good enough to create a believable illusion, but the moment you scraped some of the varnish, you could see there were problems there – lack of preparation, lack of mental fortitude, lack of readiness.
You are not doing your work justice if you do not work on your pitch.
It’s like creating an amazing dish and serving it from a garbage can. At the end of the day, both approaches can work, the only question is a question of purpose. For a keynote, conference, or otherwise important presentation, yes, of course, you should craft it, rehearse it, and craft it again.
Even for a short appearance – in fact, the shorter ones need more preparation. The shorter your presentation is, the more important each word is. For everything that isn’t a conference speech, or the most important sales pitch of your life, preparing through the natural method is more efficient. Aside from all the advantages we already described, it is also great practice for thinking on your feet, presenting on the fly, and being natural on stage.
Finally, here is the key : work on your pitch, your speech and get ready to sweat bullets. You won’t get anywhere without a bit a work.