Tuesday, 21 June 2016

What wedding speeches can teach us about business presentations

With the summer season now in full flow, there will be people of certain generations with a lot of weddings to attend – and a lot of speeches to enjoy or endure. It was about this time last year that I realised just how much a business presenter can learn from a good wedding speech; and how they can learn even more from a bad one!

I had been invited to join Jeremy Vine for a phone-in on his Radio 2 show and the producer, knowing that I normally coach business people in Presentation Skills, asked me to ‘adjust’ my advice to the ‘general listening public’ who were likely to phone in. I soon found, though, that exactly the same principles applied to both audiences.

Many of the calls were about weddings and we heard some horror stories about inappropriate Best Man speeches that were skewed far too heavily to tales of the Stag Night and similar laddish memories. We heard one story about a pair of brothers who have not spoken for 20 years since such an incident.

As I say, the advice I found myself giving was essentially the same as I give to business people: Think first about your audience, rather than what you would like to say. At a wedding the key audience is really the bride, her mother and probably some elderly relatives, so the speech should be constructed for them almost exclusively. You have already had your big boys’ fun, and what happens on the Stag Night should in any case stay on the Stag Night.

We had a Father-of-the-Bride who was fretting over his speech for the coming Saturday. He’d been researching jokes on the internet but was feeling neither happy nor confident. “Are you a natural comedian?”, I asked. “No, absolutely not”, he replied. I asked him, therefore, why he was planning to go out on such a limb on the most important day of his daughter’s life. Slightly bemused he asked what he should do instead of looking for jokes on the internet, wondering perhaps if he should think of some amusing / embarrassing stories from her childhood.

“Start”, I said, “by thinking about your audience.  That is very easy for you – it is primarily your daughter, her mother and perhaps a few key relatives. What is one thing you most want to say to your daughter and that she most wants to hear?”.  Having fumbled for a moment he declared: “That she is the most beautiful and special daughter I could ever have wished for”.  “Fantastic”, I replied, “say that to close your speech. You might want to open with it as well. Then all you have to do in between is find a couple of those childhood stories to bring that simple message alive. Job done”.

So it really is the same whether you are addressing the guests at a wedding, delegates at a business conference and anyone in the boardroom. Think first about your audience; then put high focus on a simple message that will resonate with that particular audience. In doing so, it just may help to imagine the potential delight/wrath of a bride’s mother!

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