Sunday, 1 February 2015

Applause Cues are crucial to business presentations with a memorable message

I would like to add an element to what I have said before (see here) about the importance of ‘Firsts & Lasts’ in any presentation or speech: make your ending definite. Your audience needs to know for certain that you have reached your conclusion. At the risk of sounding a bit ‘showbiz’, you need to create an ‘Applause Cue’ – a little signal that indicates ‘that’s all folks’.

So what were Tony Blair and his speech writers thinking when they constructed his Sedgefield resignation speech? He had learned from both the occasional disaster (Women’s Institute conference) and many triumphs (The settlement train is leaving; She was the people's princess…; I feel the hand of history…). Prior to his final party conference he reportedly sought advice from Kevin Spacey in order to ensure he went out with a bang. And yet, when he came to make the really big speech in which he resigned as Prime Minister he finished as follows:

This is the greatest nation on earth.
It has been an honour to serve it. I give my thanks to you, the British people, for the times I have succeeded, and my apologies to you for the times I have fallen short.
Good luck.

You can see what happened if you click on the video below and fast forward to 8.52. He says: “Good luck”, then there is an awkward silence as audience members look at each other for a moment, before eventually bursting into applause as Blair raises his hands.  He had created a ‘Have you finished?’- style conclusion at one of the most crucial moments of his career.

So you need to create an Applause Cue, whether or not you are expecting actual applause. To achieve this you need a well constructed sign-off line, combined with a sense of rhythm and emphasis. Think in terms of: Dum-diddly-um-tum…dum-dum. Blair could never have achieved this with a mere two-word sentence. He needed to extend it a bit and add emphasis, gusto and perhaps even a wave as he utters the words “good luck”. 

This applies to the everyday business presentation just as much as it does to a Prime Minister bidding farewell to the nation. Your conclusion needs a carefully constructed ‘Call to Action’ – the message that you want your audience to go away remembering, but this needs also to be carefully rehearsed so that it acts as an Applause Cue. If necessary it can be as simple as: “Thank you for your attention” – as long as it sends out an unambiguous signal that you have finished.

Two final points. First, however awkward or nervous people tend to be about getting up to speak, once they have got started, they invariably find it difficult to stop. They tend to ramble on longer than required – another reason to instil discipline on how you finish.

Second, even with a well-constructed and executed Applause Cue, business audiences are often unsure as to whether applause is appropriate.  So when you are in control of a meeting, decide if you want applause. If you do, then get someone to act as ‘applause leader’ – once one person claps, everyone else is sure to join in, because applause is infectious!

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