How to Be a Better Speaker

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David R. Evanson

The Career Advisor, Fall, 2004

If you believe what you read in the Expert’s Corner below, the gray matter between your ears will have an almost negligible impact on your success as a planner. What has an impact is your ability to develop and maintain relationships. For many, this process begins the first time you meet a would-be client: as a public speaker discussing some aspect of investing or wealth management.

And again, consistent with the theory of success suggested in the Expert’s Corner, it’s not too great a leap of faith to get to the notion that what you say is much less important than how you say it. According to speaking consultant Kevin O’Connor, a certified speaking professional, professor, and consultant, “If you are a good speaker the audience will think you are a good planner. But if you are a lousy speaker, the audience just groans and doesn’t really care whether or not you are a good planner. The fact is your credibility as a planner and a speaker, go hand in hand.”

With this in mind, here are three strategies for doing a better job with the public speaking opportunities that come your way.

Nix the jokes. “Jokes are risky,” says O’Connor. “Sometimes they are irrelevant; sometimes they are politically incorrect and turn off a major portion of the audience. Sometimes they are just plain not funny.”

Risks aside, O’Connor says that developing a metaphor is a far more productive and effective way of starting a speech than a joke. For instance you might start off by saying something like, “Good financial planning is a lot like painting a room. It’s the prep work that takes the real time, and when done correctly dramatically improves the outcome.”

Continues O’Connor, “You are always better off demonstrating respect for the audience rather than irreverence,” says O’Connor. And regarding the metaphors, O’Connor says to go easy on the sports metaphors. “It can be a real turn off for women.”

Get at the Burning Questions. After your introduction, O’Connor suggests taking the temperature of the room. “You might say something like: ‘ . . . so that’s what I’m hear to talk about, but before I do, tell me, what are your burning questions? What is it you really want to know?”

Be forewarned that you may need nerves of steel for this one, because you can pop the question and get nothing. “Wait it out,” says O’Connor. “Twenty-five, 30 seconds. That’s an incredibly long period of time and it will cause someone in the audience to break, and when one person does, others will follow.”

The burning questions are helpful to you, the speaker. First, they give you valuable clues as to the level of financial acumen in the room. Second, you learn what the audience wants to know and can adjust your talk accordingly. “Think of the burning questions as a way to diagnose, prescribe and treat in a very efficient manner.”

Speak in threes. As practical matter you want to structure your talk and your answers to questions in threes. If the questions is, Why does regular periodic investing make sense even when I am only able to put away $100 per month? The answer goes like this according to O’Connor: “That’s a great question that touches on several items that are relevant to everyone here in the room. Basically, there are three parts to the answer. First . . .”

O’Connor says it’s much easier for the audience to follow along with what you are saying if they know what’s coming, than for them to hear unpunctuated remarks where the endpoint in unknown and unclear.

While this will help the audience understand what you say, it will not do anything to help them remember it. But that’s not the point anyway. The point is to increase the prospect or client’s comfort with you. The best that you can hope for is that when one of your audience members is asked the next day by a family member or friend what you talked about the night before, they say: “I don’t really remember . . . I know she talked about three strategies for rolling over your IRA, and she seemed to really know what she was talking about.”