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How to Give a Speech

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Know the feeling? Trembling hands, dry mouth, clammy palms, gurgling gut.

On your mark…Get set… You’re about to give a speech!

Fear of public speaking ranks, according to studies, as one of Americans’ top three fears. For people in many other countries, speech-making is even scarier.

So if you become apprehensive, you’re not alone. The fact is everyone feels nervous to some extent before and during a public-speaking event. That’s good to remember because nowadays holding seminars for prospects and clients, and appearing on television, radio and webinars have become increasingly important marketing tools for enterprising financial advisors.

“There is no question that distinctive public speaking and a heightened visibility is absolutely essential to distinguish yourself. In markets such as these, the calm voice of reason is something people really appreciate. Now is an excellent time to step up,” says Lynthia Romney, whose RomneyCom public relations firm specializes in financial services clients, including at least one major wirehouse.

Most large brokerages help FAs prepare for seminars and sometimes also provide “media training” — pointers on how to handle press interviews. They typically recruit public relations consultants or speech coaches to work with advisors on both content preparation and speech delivery. Such experts are usually available for hire by individuals too.

Be Yourself, Be EffectivePractice, practice, practice — still the best way to get to Carnegie Hall, and still the best way to shine in a spoken presentation.

Practice by videotaping yourself; then play back the recording to check on how you can improve your delivery.

Practice in front of family and friends. Practice in front of anyone who’ll listen.

Practice, even, in front of your dog. “That’s a really good technique because if you don’t have the right amount of passion and energy in your voice, your dog will turn around, start licking itself and go to sleep,” says LeeAundra Temescu, who heads The Contrary Public Speaker in Marina del Rey, Calif., and is a frequent commentator on political rhetoric.

Opting for seminars instead of cold-calling as a rookie 16 years ago, Morgan Stanley advisor Emily Bach built a million-dollar book in a decade mainly by teaching adult education classes.

Now running the seven-person Bach Group in Orinda, Calif., she owes that early success largely to conducting seminars with excitement and enthusiasm.

To illustrate specific points, for instance, Bach told funny anecdotes about her grandmother. “People could identify with the stories better than if I merely told them what a stock was,” says the advisor, whose elder brother, David Bach, is a best-selling personal finance author and noted public speaker. An ex-FA, he built his practice by giving seminars too.

“Be yourself” is the mantra of most speech coaches. But, alas, when that means speaking with low energy in a lifeless voice that can lull listeners to sleep, you need to juice it up.

However, Ethan Becker, senior speech coach-trainer with The Speech Improvement Company in Boston says that often financial industry clients complain that adjusting their speaking style feels fake.

“But you aren’t being phony or unnatural. You’re still you. You’re simply leveraging techniques to connect with your listeners,” says Becker, whose firm has worked on presidential campaigns and with numerous FAs.

The secret is to “be yourself and also be effective at the same time. If you’re not talking with a lot of enthusiasm,” he says, “you’re probably not very effective. Being natural is a matter of what you’re familiar with. So that means practice.”

‘Crazy Eddie’ EnthusiasmTemescu, whose clients include the Bank of America and Pentagon employees, notes: “You may think you’re putting out a lot of enthusiasm, but there’s a tremendous amount of figurative and literal distance between you and the audience. Sometimes you have to over-do the enthusiasm to have enough impact.”

In her “Crazy Eddie Exercise,” for those who, as she says, aren’t the “enthusiastic, dynamic, energetic bundle of charisma we associate with good speakers,” Temescu videotapes the client doing 60 seconds of their presentation as they normally would. Then she records them doing the same piece, but this time imitating the actor in those hyper TV commercials for the now-defunct Crazy Eddie’s consumer electronics stores.

His character was a boisterous nut-case — wide-eyed, arms waving wildly and shouting, “Our prices are INSANE!!” (Unrelated, Crazy Eddie’s owner later got into trouble with the SEC big-time.)

“When clients watch the Crazy Eddie tape of themselves, they say, ‘Wow, I almost need to be like that in order to get where I want to in terms of energy and enthusiasm.’ Most of us,” says Temescu, “have a little Crazy Eddie in us. It just needs to be brought out.”

Another costly mistake advisors make is using financial jargon that audiences simply do not understand. Pair that with talking in mono-pattern — that is, without varying the tone, inflection or speed of speech — and everything sounds flat and boring to the crowd.

“After about three minutes of the same pattern of speech, you put your listeners in a state of trance. Combined with technical information that’s over their heads, they just zone out,” says Becker.

In her seminars, Emily Bach used lots of analogies to simplify the principles of investing. To introduce a risk pyramid, for example, she first discussed the food pyramid. Then she’d segue: “You also need a nutritious diet when investing.”

“People got it because they could identify,” she says.

A seminar speech, and most others, should be succinct, crisp and in a conversational style — that means written for the ear, not the eye.

Of course, the message to be conveyed about you as an expert is all-important. So take time to compose and revise the content until it expresses exactly what you want to say.

“You need to have a message that distinguishes you from other service providers and at the same time is true to your company and its brand,” stresses Romney, based in Chappaqua, N.Y.

Sell Without SellingIndeed, for seminars especially, the best strategy is to sell without selling. That requires striking a fine balance.

“There’s been a real backlash against people trying to hawk their wares too obviously in a seminar that’s supposed to be providing information and advice,” says Temescu. “Therefore, ‘negative selling’ is becoming very popular among people that have a certain expertise and who are trying to sell it. They hope [prospects] understand that they’re professionals available for hire and that they’re impressed with the quality of information and judgment they showed in their presentations.”

For Emily Bach’s seminars, a “non-salesy” approach, as she calls it, worked wonderfully. “It was an ad for me, but the classes were very generic and educational. [Advisors] were all trying to sell at that time. I was trying to be more the educational solutions provider saying, ‘I want you to learn.’”

Coaches strongly advise against reading a speech — but don’t memorize it word for word either. The idea is to be so familiar with it — practice, practice, practice — that all you need is to glance at an outline occasionally to stay on track as to sequence.

Ethan Becker has an easy four-step way to organize material. Step 1: “Tell What Tell.” That’s telling the audience what you’ll be talking about and for how long. Step 2: “Tell Why Listen.” That is, why it’s important to hear whatever it is you’ve got to say. Step 3: “Tell.” The body of your speech. And Step 4: “Tell What Told” — a summary of key points.

How about using humor? The rule is: If being funny is the norm with you and you’re comfortable cracking jokes in a presentation — where appropriate — go ahead. But if you aren’t essentially a funny person, fuhgedaboudit! Canned gags are hard to pull off. And nothing will dampen the proceedings faster than a joke that dies.

Instead, to establish that connection and ingratiate yourself with the audience, tell a metaphorical story to illustrate a financial point.

Bach, in her inaugural workshop, loosened up listeners by handing out books and fake million-dollar bills to attendees who broke the ice by asking the first questions. “They were excited about that,” she recalls, “and it got everyone laughing.”

Take BreaksOf course, the flip side is when listeners ask too many questions and divert you from your planned presentation or, as Temescu says, “lead you down a rat hole.”

That’s when it’s time to say, “We need to move on, or we won’t cover all the material.” Another tack is to promise a persistent questioner to get together with them one-on-one during the break.

“A speaker who has a lot of experience will control the room and not let people go off on tangents,” says Bach. “When I was brand-new, I would be too nice. It’s knowing when to shut somebody up when they’re being kind of a pain or bringing the energy down by being negative. It’s learning how to tactfully quiet those people, but not alienate them.”

Bach’s 10-minute breaks allowed such folks a private chat with the advisor, but intermissions also served another purpose. “You want people to come up to you and ask questions that they wouldn’t ask in class. That,” she says, “is when you find out where the money is.”

As for pre-speech angst, well, those huge adrenaline surges come with the territory. Some nervousness is actually a positive thing: Being all pumped up can add vitality to your speaking.

“That little butterfly,” says Romney, “can be good because it can keep you sharp and make your speech exciting. But you need to tap into a solid mastery of your content, and that requires research and preparation. To feel really comfortable, over-rehearse. Most people rehearse too little.”

If you’re overwhelmed by swarms of butterflies, first determine precisely what you’re afraid of — being unable to answer a question, losing your train of thought and so on. Then do special exercises, such as breathing from the diaphragm as you speak, or visualization techniques: Imagine you’re lying in a peaceful, beautiful meadow or floating on clouds.

For all public speaking, dress for success. In-person events usually require, says Temescu, an outfit one level above that of your audience: If you expect folks to arrive in khakis and polos, you wear navy slacks and a dress shirt.

Get to the venue about 90 minutes early to check on the seating set-up. Chairs placed closer to you lead to more audience interaction — and that’s what you’re striving for. Familiarize yourself with the microphone if one is provided. Do a sound-check.

Do not hide behind a podium when presenting; your speech will sound artificial. If one is furnished, stand to the side of it. Even walk around a bit as you talk.

TV and Radio InterviewsShould your future hold television interviews or video webinars, keep in mind that your on-camera energy needs to be super-high. But don’t bop around. Sit up straight. Be sure your hair is combed neatly. Wear solid colors, nothing shiny. Lose the shimmery eye-shadow, ladies. Gentlemen, for studio interviews, where lighting is harsh, wear pancake makeup with a dusting of powder to minimize shine and avoid looking washed-out.

To cope with a bad case of nerves on TV, remember what talk-show host Dick Cavett has said: “The best thing is to tell yourself that it doesn’t show one-eighth as much as you feel…Your nervous system may be giving you a thousand shocks, but the viewer can only see a few of them.”

Come what may, always remember to smile. “A genuine smile will cover up a multitude of sins,” says Temescu.

TV is designed for short sound bites. Practice doing eight- to 15-second ones by calling your voice mail; then listen to and critique the messages.

For radio and audio-only webinars, it’s not only what you say but — hear this — how you sound. Practicing, listen to the rate at which you talk; how loudly you speak; how high or low your voice is — the pitch; vocal inflections or lack thereof; and diction — the clarity of your speech.

“Pitch is the most powerful subliminal indicator of authority; diction is one of the most powerful indicators of intelligence,” Temescu notes.

Another critical element is fluency. That goes for all public speaking. You don’t want to flood your audience with too many “um’s,” “uh’s,” “er’s” or “and’s.”

When it comes to newspaper and magazine interviews, present your thoughts clearly, speak up and try not to ramble.

“Treat a reporter as you would your best customer,” advises Romney. “Be respectful of their deadlines, and prepare for them in a thoughtful way.”

A final word to the wise: Never practice a speech in front of your cat.

“It doesn’t matter how energetic you are,” says Temescu, with a laugh. “A cat will only ignore you, and your confidence will be torpedoed.”

Freelance writer Jane Wollman Rusoff is a Los Angeles-based contributing editor of Research and is the founder of Family Star Productions.


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