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How to ... Give the perfect speech

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Forget picturing a naked audience.

That advice for giving a great speech is outdated, not to mention a tad odd.

The most memorable speeches are ones that have sincere storytelling, blend comedy with a theme, and above all else, stick to the point. Those are some of the top tips for giving a great speech from public relations, branding and marketing entrepreneur Kristine Nickel. Now a managing partner of Sarasota-based Nickel Communications, Nickel, among other roles, is a former lead in-house spokeswomen for Tropicana and FCCI Insurance Group. She's given hundreds of speeches in her career.

It was at Lakewood Ranch-based FCCI, in the 1990s, when Nickel helped start an FCCI chapter of Toastmasters, a global nonprofit speech-giving organization. She later led a team of senior insurance executives who gave speeches at industry conferences.

The first step in a great speech, says Nickel, is an outline. “Humor is a great way to start,” she says. “It relaxes the audience. It lets them know you can do this.”

Then come stories, which connect the audience to the point of the speech — and the speaker. A model for a great way to use stories, says Nickel, comes from a business icon not known for speeches: Steve Jobs. The Apple co-founder spoke at Stanford University's 2005 commencement and opened with this: “Today I want to tell you three stories from my life.
That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.”

Another part to a great speech comes in preparation. Go somewhere with limited distractions to practice, suggests Nickel. She goes through phrases and pacing of her speeches, for example, while walking her dog.

Beyond practice and stories, Nickel says a great speech needs a prop, such as removing eyeglasses or chopping your hand through the air, to illustrate a point. And always find a spot for silence, which can refocus an audience. “A pause,” Nickel says, “can be one of the greatest tools you can use.”

— Mark Gordon


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