Audience participation is part and parcel of any organization dinner or function. Being a good spectator means listening respectfully and patiently to a variety of speeches, but to get people to put down their knives and forks, the speaker has to make the dinner speech palatable. The sure-fire way to capture an audience’s attention is to prepare, practice, and add a dash of passion.
The organization dinner circuit is reaching its seasonal peak as June approaches, and for most nonprofits, the annual dinner is the main fundraiser of the year.
Success is partially contingent upon choosing the right venue, picking a date that doesn’t conflict with any other event, and last but not least, working with the caterer to come up with a delectable menu.
But the main drawing card, is not the fare, it is the honorees. A painstaking amount of time and effort is carefully invested into selecting the most deserving volunteers or donors. Once that’s done, and you know you have picked the right people, the next and often most overlooked step, is to give guidance to your guest speakers.
This last point can be make-or-break. Your dinner is a messaging opportunity in front of hundreds of people. Just as you sit with the caterer to determine what your guests will eat, you must make sure that the words of speakers will be just as easily digestible.
Dr. David Rehr, former president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters and a speechwriting consultant to political campaigns, says that proper preparation and setup are the major components of an effective address. A well-constructed speech is a golden opportunity to engage and energize your audience.
Since there are multiple speakers at any dinner or event, Dr. Rehr says it is a “must” to ensure the speakers convey a common theme. “Envision a jazz ensemble,” says Dr. Rehr. “They probably won’t just show up at the venue and launch into a 45-minute improvisational odyssey. The group will have gotten together in advance to form and practice a set list of songs that will give them room to improvise to get the crowd going.”
At a dinner, the first speaker, often the master of ceremonies, followed sometime during the evening by a keynote speaker, are the most responsible for setting the tone and providing a foundation around which you can tailor your message, but everyone who steps up to the mike has to keep the harmony.
Here are six tips from Dr. Rehr to help you keep your organization’s message consistent, yet memorable:
• 40 percent of a good speech is the set up
Be sure each speaker’s introduction leaves a positive impression. Meet with your speakers before the dinner, and spend time creating an introduction for each on and a unified message. Research shows that two days letter, the audience will forget much of what was said, with the exception of the introduction.
• Hone your message with research
Sometimes, a guest speaker has name recognition but is not necessarily familiar with the ins and outs of the organization. Help them do proper research ahead of time so they play to both your strengths, and your audience’s interests.
• Keep it short and to the point
People have a short attention span and very few speakers can hold an audience’s attention for more than 10 or 15 minutes. Don’t risk losing an audience by delivering too many thoughts and ideas. Dr. Rehr’s secret is to speak in threes: “Today, I want to make three points—one, two, three.” Make them and then summarize them at the end by restating them. Then stop and thank everyone for their attention.
• Time Yourself and Practice
Once your speech is written, practice it once with a stopwatch. The gap between how long you thought it was and how long the watch says it was will surprise you. Adjust accordingly. When the audience stops looking at you, that’s when you’ve lost them. Brevity will make you distinctive.
• Deliver your speech with authenticity and passion
This doesn’t mean you have to pound your fists, shout it out or be overly dramatic. But show your true self to the audience so they can connect with you. You can also present serious ideas while smiling and being likeable. Being authentic and passionate will never fail you.
• Conclude your speech on an optimistic note
Whatever you are speaking about, or to whomever you are speaking to, always make sure to end with inspiration and optimism.
This Week’s Bottom Line Action Step: Perfect the intro of every speech, and close on a positive note.