Virgin founder Richard Branson is no stranger to the spotlight, but when he makes a speech he says there’s only one goal in mind: Avoiding boring everyone to tears.
Writing on the Virgin blog last week, Branson revealed his top tips for next time you’re speaking in public — no matter whether you’re terrified of the prospect or desperate to make a passionate plea to your audience.
1. Keep it to one sheet of paper
“When will people realise that a short speech is so much better than a long speech?” Branson asks.
“In the same way most business pitches can be done on the back of an envelope, most of what anybody has to say of great note can fit on one side of paper.”
Not only does this approach make it easier to frame your point of view, it could also help to ensure the audience, and any other presenters at the event, stay with you.
Branson recounts being at an presentation in Japan where the speaker before him “droned on” for a couple of hours. He was next in line to give a speech, and realised everyone had reached their limit for long-winded presentations.
“When I saw what was happening, I wouldn’t do a speech at all; I got on stage and asked the audience to interact with me,” he explains.
“After 40 minutes I left on a high, everyone was enjoying it — and was awake!”
2. Start and end with a smile
It’s a simple trick, but no matter how serious the topic, you can usually structure a speech around two laughs, Branson says.
Building your presentation around some lighter moments doesn’t mean the bulk of it loses its weight, he says.
“Start making people smile, have a laugh in the middle, be sure to include a bit of serious stuff either side of that, but end on a smile,” Branson says.
3. Don’t be afraid to get people involved
After hosting countless events and Q and A sessions, Branson now feels at home ad-libbing, but he says even those new to public speaking can benefit from getting the audience they are addressing involved in the presentation.
The trick here is not worrying so much about the outcome: “I just take whatever comes,” Branson says of hosting Q and A sessions for his Virgin Unite foundation.
This strategy allows people to put forward their own ideas, with Branson taking a relaxed approach to considering them.
“If somebody wants a photo, I invite them up, I have a laugh with them. If somebody tries to pitch something to me, I let the audience judge business ideas,” he writes.
And one of the best bits about building a speech around short, funny moments?
“It makes the time fly faster,” Branson says.