One of the absolute best ways to connect with your audience at the beginning of your speech is with what I call a Customized Callback. Take a look at this video lesson to see 4 ways you can use this tool:
What customized callback have you used in a speech?
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My mother was an English teacher. My wife is an English teacher. Therefore, I try my best to be grammatically correct. However, in public speaking, I do not believe you must use good grammar at all times. There are times when I sacrifice correct grammar for something that is more important when I am speaking. What is that?
That’s right. To me, rhythm trumps grammar much of the time. The following are three sacrifices I suggest you make in order to take your speaking way past where most speakers will go.
#1 – Sacrifice your grammar for your Rhythm
Listen to the following segment in one of my speeches:
What’s wrong with that line? Well, I said, “When we make excuses for someone, we invite them never to change.” That’s grammatically incorrect. Instead, I should have said the following:
“When we make excuses for someone, we invite him or her never to change.” This is because I am speaking about one person (i.e. .someone) instead of multiple people.
However, if I say it in a grammatically correct way, do you see how it messes up my rhythm? That’s why I choose to use “them” instead of using the phrase “him or her.” Grammatically it is wrong but rhythmically it is right.
#2 – Sacrifice your grammar for your Characters
The other time I sacrifice grammar in speaking is when I use character dialogue. Not all of our characters use correct grammar when they speak. Remember, in speaking, you should say it how you heard it. For example, if one of your characters says, “He ain’t no good for you,” then you should say it how he said it. Changing it to “He is not any good for you” alters the truth and the flavor of that character and tears away the story’s integrity. Keep your characters true to who THEY are.
If a character in your story used slang, then use slang. If the character spoke in broken English, then speak in broken English. If a character never finished her sentences, don’t finish her sentences. Be true to your characters even if you have to occasionally sacrifice grammar. Keep in mind that you can get away with grammatically incorrect phrases inside of your story that you probably cannot get away with outside of your story when you are having a conversation with your audience.
#3 – Sacrifice your writing for your Speaking
I strongly suggest that you speak like you talk. If you are using words in your speeches that you don’t normally use when you talk, you aren’t being the real you on stage. Speak like you talk, not like you write.
I witness so many speakers saying lines like, “She replied, ‘I am going out for a run.’” What?! Do you really talk that way (i.e. saying “She replied”) in real life? Most people just say, “She said, ‘I’m going out for a run.” Too many speakers speak like they write instead of speaking like they talk.
Put the Narration First
Here’s a surefire way to know a speaker is speaking like he writes rather than like he talks. He puts the narration at the end of the line of dialogue. For example, he says something like the following
“If you don’t give up that habit, you will die,” I said.
I suggest that you do not put the narration (i.e. I said) at the end of the line of dialogue. That’s what people do in writing. When you speak like you talk, you put the narration in front like this:
I said, “If you don’t give up that habit, you will die.”
Putting the narration first is important because it empowers you to keep the most important word at the end of the sentence. For example, what’s the most important word of that dialogue? It’s “die,” not “said.” So put the narration first and set up the dialogue to have the most impact.
Speaking like you talk will help you refrain from delivering a spoken article.
One Final Suggestion:
Writing is very important in business, speaking, and in life. After all, if I didn’t write, you would not be reading this. However, it’s important to speak like you talk and not like you write. Speak your way into speaking. How? Write down an idea and start speaking extemporaneously about it. You will start to turn a mess into a message. After all, if you split up the words MESSAGE, you will just find a MESS with AGE. You have a mess that, over time, turns into a message.
Once you speak your way into that message, you can record it, have it transcribed (I use wordsintoprofits.com) and then review it. This works well because you can then make tweaks to the page that will end up on stage. However, it will sound natural and not written.
When, if ever, do you sacrifice grammar in your speeches?
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Analogies can take your speeches to fantastic heights. One of the best ways to get someone to know something new is to relate the unknown to the known. In other words, relate the unknown to something he or she already knows. In textbook language this is referred to as activating prior knowledge.
Analogies help tremendously in this area. Webster’s New World Dictionary’s definition of analogy is “similarity in some ways.”
Remember: Analogies help people relate what they do not know to what they know.
See if you can pick up the analogy in this story that I began relaying to my audiences recently.
In the case of the story in the video, my analogy involved the similarity of lifting up someone’s life to riding up with them in an elevator. I could have easily taken that analogy further by turning it into a phrase such as “Elevate lives” or even a brand such as “The Lifter.” After all, in some countries, the elevator is referred to as the lift. However, even without extending the analogy too much, the elevator itself helps make the story stick.
Why is an analogy important?
Analogies are so important because of the following scenario that occurs regularly with me. There’s an analogy I use about how when a crab tries to crawl out of the barrel, the other crabs claw at it and try to bring it back down. This analogy is as old as crabs themselves but I wrapped my own story around it. We relate the crabs in a barrel to negative people pulling us down.
Someone often approaches me and says, “Craig, I saw you speak about a year ago and you talked about the crabs in a barrel. I have not been able to get that speech out of my head. In fact, something happened to me recently and I remembered you said, ‘Stay away from the crabs in a barrel. You also said that you can never stay fired up when everyone around you is burned out.’ Man, it really helped me get through that situation.”
Note: By the way, the fire piece is an analogy too. Usually I try not to mix analogies but every now and then it’s effective.
The point here is that whether it is a year ago or two years ago, people remember your message more clearly if you provide an analogy. They can SEE the crabs in the barrel holding each other down and so that makes it more urgent for them to steer clear of those types of people.
Remember: Analogies help people remember your stories and points and gain a greater understanding of your message.
Other examples of effective analogies
I’ve heard speakers relate…
- Being hungry for food to being hungry for their dreams
- A malignant growth to slavery
- Not setting goals to drifting aimlessly on a raft
- Refusing to change to being stuck in the mud
- A symphony to racial harmony
- Opening holiday presents to using your gifts
- Living life like a track race that never goes beyond “Take your marks, get-set….
- A telephone call to your life’s calling
- A train coming to your purpose in life
Using the appropriate analogies will help you connect on a deep level and empower your audience to grasp your content much quicker.
How do you develop analogies for your point?
Simply keep asking yourself, “What is this similar to?” “What is that like?” Do this on a daily basis and in no time at all you will have a habit of finding analogies. You do not have to carry the analogy out too far but just far enough to see some similarities between two different entities.
Go back to Webster’s definition of “similarities in some ways” and understand that, through training your mind to see similarities, you will be able to find them. Again, keep asking, “What is that like?” “What is this similar to?”
What analogies do you currently use in your speeches? Do you wrap a story around the analogy?
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Using two stories back to back is often a very effective way to influence your audience, especially if one story represents a “don’t” and the other story represents a “do.” Why? It’s because the contrast in the stories helps to make the “right way” decision clear. In this video (from all the way back in 2010), I use two stories back-to-back to make one clear point. Check it out and then we’ll debrief.
Which person do you want to be more like, my speaking hero or Martin Sheen? Sheen offered the right way and my speaking hero offered the wrong way at least in my opinion. Contrast is an extremely important and influential part of public speaking. You can use the Back to Back Story Method to contrast…
- right and wrong
- good and bad
- effective and ineffective
- how to build or how to break
- and much more. There’s really no limit to what you can contrast.
Customer Service Example
Let’s say you’re doing a speech on customer service. Think of an experience where you, as the customer, were treated poorly. Now think of an experience where you, as the customer, had someone go beyond the call of duty to help you. If you tell those two stories back to back, the bad will look even worse and the good will look even better because they’re right next to each other.
The Verbal Picture
I liken the Back to Back Story Method to taking a picture. In one of my speaking bootcamps, I once had a student (a former NBA All-Star) who stood 7 feet 4 inches tall. In that same bootcamp, one of my students (a university professor) barely reached the 5 feet mark. When we took a picture and they stood next to each other, I could barely capture them in the same shot. The contrast made the tall person look taller and the short person look shorter. Of course there’s no good and bad with height but I’m just saying that the contrast was clearer when they stood side by side.
Back to the Back to Back Story Method
That’s the strength of the Back to Back Story Method. Because your stories are essentially standing side by side, they make the contrast clear and help your audience more easily choose what to do and what not to do (or how to be or how not to be). Hopefully people will see my story and follow their own Sheen Factor.
Do you currently tell two stories back to back that use contrast as a tool of influence? If so, what are you comparing and contrasting?
If you aren’t currently using this method, do you have two stories you can tell back to back to make a point? What would that point be?
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When you build yourself up, you let your audience down.
Let’s face it; there are some speakers who use the platform to stroke their ego. When we talk about how great we are and speak only of our successes, our audience members think of us in 1 of 2 ways:
- “Wow, he sure is full of himself.”
- “Well, I guess he’s just special.”
As a speaker, being considered special is just as bad as being considered full of yourself. When your audience thinks you are special, they begin to think “Of course that strategy works for him because he’s special. He’s a genius.”
They have a built-in excuse not to use your advice and, consequently, you become worthless to that audience. You can avoid this by using the following 3 Audience Connection Tools that will not only get you connected with your audience but will also spark them to act on your message.
Audience Connection Tool (ACT) Number 1:
Put the process, not the person, on a pedestal. In other words, don’t brag about yourself, brag about the process (or formula, recipe, toolkit, etc.) you have uncovered in your life’s journey. When you do this, the audience members think, “I am interested in learning more about this process. I don’t know if it really works, but I’m interested in learning more about it.”
This gets your audience a little closer to taking an action on your message, because you’ve succeeded in building interest in your process rather than in you. However, there are still two major obstacles. Although they are interested in your process, they still aren’t sure if it really works. Your story should begin to prove to them that the process works, but Audience Connection Tool number 2 will take that credibility to another level.
Audience Connection Tool (ACT) Number 2
Quantify your process. For example, in the midst of your story or activity, you might say, “I came across these tools that I now refer to as the 4 Rs to Remarkable Results that you can use to make change work for you instead of against you.” Or you might say, “This 4-step formula was used by the great orators of the past and the present. Everyone from Aristotle to Anthony Robbins has used these 4 steps.”
The reason you should quantify your process is because, as Patricia Fripp says, “Specificity builds credibility.” Your process goes from being a loose intangible to a tight proven system.
It also naturally builds the curiosity for your audience members to think, “I want to hear all 4 steps. Come on, what’s step 1?” In this way, quantifying your process not only builds credibility in that process, but it also teases your audience to want to know more. As a result, they will buy-into the fact that the process worked for you. However, they still might not think it will work for them. That’s where tool number 3 comes in handy.
Audience Connection Tool (ACT) Number 3
If you want your audience members to act on your message, you must help them feel like you (or the main characters in your story) are similar to them. Think similar, not separate. One strategy you can easily use is to break yourself down so your audience members know you are closer to them then you are to, say, Zeus.
For example, I regularly tell people the low score I received the first time I took the SATs. What do you think happens inside of the minds of my audience members? Chances are they think, “Well, if he can be successful at this, I can definitely be successful at this too. Let me listen up for what process he used to get from A to B.”
Many average speakers won’t allow themselves to share their failures or open up to an audience in this way. However, the quickest way to build a connection with your audience is to share your failures, flaws, frustrations, and firsts (not all of your first, of course). If you do this, you will connect fast and deep.
Remember, your job as a speaker is usually to sell people on the results they will get when they utilize a certain formula, process, tool, or recipe. It has nothing to do with you being a genius, it has everything to do with finding the process that worked for you (or for your customers) and will work for others. Your story is simply the proof that they can use the process too. Remember to
- Put the process, not the person, on a pedestal
- Quantify your process
- Share your failures, flaws, frustrations, and firsts
What is one way you make yourself similar (rather than special) to your audience?
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Recently I received a phone call and an e-mail from an executive at an organization I spoke to 10 years ago. She said, “Can you speak at our conference again this year? We really enjoyed you last time!”
Now, please don’t take this as me being cocky, but I’m surprised they didn’t call sooner. Why? Because during the keynote 10 years ago, I made several of my audience members the stars of my speech. When you do that, you very often get invited back.
“When you make them the stars, you shine too”
Below are 4 ways you can shine as a speaker by making your audience members the stars of your speech
Way #1: Tell His/Her Story
Share a story about the person and either use his or her name or let the person self-identify if necessary. I usually use the person’s name if the story involves something that’s positive and helps him/her look good in the eyes of the audience. However, if it could be perceived as negative, I withhold the name and let that particular audience member identify herself if she pleases. Usually the person does just that.
For example, here is a quick story I told about one of my audience members in Pennsylvania years ago (you might have heard this clip before):
As you heard, she DID self-identify and was proud to have said what she said. This tool helped her become a star in my speech and we even stayed connected online afterwards.
Way #2: Give one audience member dialogue
This tool might seem a little trickier than the others but it’s actually quite simple. All you do is state what one of your audience members is likely thinking and say it out loud as if he/she’s saying it to you. For example, after an activity in which I asked my audience members to change 12 things about their appearance, here is what happened during the debriefing in Fairbanks, Alaska:
As you could tell, this generated lots of laughter but what you could not see was how much the person I mentioned was laughing. She enjoyed it the most and she became a temporary star of the speech. When you connect with one, you can connect with all.
Way #3: Use his or her name in a sentence
I can remember being in Les Brown’s audience when he looked at me and mentioned my name a few times from the stage. How do you think I felt? Like a star!
This tools is simple. All you need to do is insert an audience member’s name into whatever it is that you’re saying. For example, I might say, “…but Jake what I realized from this is that you master what you measure.”
This is straight-forward, simple, and to the point. But make no mistake about it, this simple act of mentioning someone’s name continues to deepen the connection with your entire audience because they know you see beyond the group to the individuals in it. Jake ever-so-slightly and temporarily becomes a star of the speech. Simple but powerful.
Way #4: Walk over and ask one person a question
The first three of these Ways have to do with content. However, this 4th Way has to do with delivery. I usually do this during my transitions from one point to another. It’s a great way to bridge the gap between finishing one point and setting up a new one.
For example, I often walk over to one person as if he or she is the only person in the room and ask, “Do you ever watch the Olympics?” When he says “Yes” I say, “Do you watch the track and field?” After I get a couple of yeses (I move on to another person if the original person says no) I say, “In real life, the real tragedy I see is that most people live on ‘get-set. They take their marks, they get-set, and then never go. Most people die on get-set…” Then I transition into my module about living on get-set.
Because the conversation (or simply their answer) often turns humorous, that person becomes one of the stars of the speech. Many times our interaction is something the audience members can laugh about once I am gone.
The personal touch of asking the question to one person helps also by keeping the rest of the audience members on their toes. After all, they’ll probably think, “I might be next.”
Final Thoughts on making your audience members the stars
When you find ways to make individuals in your audience the stars of your speech, you automatically connect deeper with the group. Sometimes it’s because the group lives vicariously through the individual and thinks, “How would I respond to that?” Other times it’s because they realize that you actually see them as individuals and you are listening to and watching them just as they are listening to and watching you.
I don’t care so much about the reasons; I just care about the results. If you want to get re-hired time and time again, make them the stars and then enjoy as you shine with them.
How do you make your audience members the stars of your speech?
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Have you ever wondered if you’re getting better or getting worse as a speaker? Usually when speakers gets worse it’s because they haven’t stayed connected to the guidelines that helped them improve in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, there are always new guidelines and methods that will help take us to even greater heights. However, that doesn’t mean you should forget about the fundamental guidelines that have placed you on solid ground.
Below is a list of 25 of Phrases that I use to guide me. Once per year I like to offer them to you as a consolidated list of reminders from lessons I’ve covered throughout the year.
Don’t just read this list
Wisdom and growth come from reflection. Instead of simply reading these phrases, reflect on them. I suggest contacting 1 or 2 other speakers to discuss at least 10 of the 25 guidlines. Feel free to also comment on them in the blog. These are statements I use often when coaching speakers and the more you reflect on them, the better speaker you will become. Do the “reflection work;” it will pay off!
- Tease them before you tell them
- Too many speakers try to get across too much information in too little time
- What gets recorded gets rewarded
- When you lift yourself up, you let your audience down
- Tap into their world before you transport them into yours
- Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue
- Turn their pain into your promise
- Don’t add humor; uncover it
- If you don’t live it don’t give it
- Put the process, not the person, on a pedestal
- If I said it, you spread it (encourage others to share your message)
- Never sell a product, always sell the result
- Put the result before the resource
- What’s loose is lost
- Speak to one but look to all
- You can’t have an effect if they don’t reflect
- Don’t memorize, internalize
- Sell the belief before the relief
- When you squeeze your information in, you squeeze your audience out (old speaker proverb)
- Don’t be the hero of your own story (learned from Patricia Fripp)
- Don’t speak for standing ovations; speak for standing invitations
- Don’t retell it, relive it (learned from Lou Heckler)
- It’s the spaces and faces between the lines that make the line work
- May I forget myself, remember my speech, and touch my audience
- Tell a story and make a point (learned from Bill Gove)
What are your guidelines?
I’d love to hear from you. What are some of the guidelines you follow to keep improving as a speaker? I’d like to post some of them (with proper attribution of course) in a future blog entry.
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Years ago one of my coaching said to me, “Craig, you have rhythm when you speak. How can I get rhythm into my speeches?”
I have to admit, at the time, I was stumped for an answer. I really hadn’t thought much about it. However, a few months later, it hit me. Speaking is certainly a lot like music and there is a rhythm to it.
There is also a major benefit to having rhythm in your speech. Can you guess what that is?
It makes the speech more memorable!
Think about it, aren’t there some songs you haven’t heard for years but, if you heard them today, you would remember the words? That’s because music has that kind of power. Speaking can have a similar power if it’s rhythmic.
Every now and then I receive a phone call or e-mail that says something like the following: “Craig, I saw you speak 10 years ago and I remember you said, ‘People buy-into what they help create.’ Well, I need some buy-in from my staff so I want to bring you in to speak.”
Believe it or not, the repetition and the rhythm behind the points I drive home have a lot to do with why my past audience members still remember them.
Let’s look at how you can have Rhythm in your Speaking
When I was in middle school, I remember our music teaching showing us how to put a song together. Today I look at speaking in a very similar way.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not a musician nor do I pretend to be. However, the way a very simple song is put together has similarities with the way a speech can be put together.
Speaking of Singing
Here’s what I remember about the structure of a song. It’s what is regularly called the AABA form.
Speaking of Speaking
Now let’s look at the way a keynote speech can be put together compared to the song.
Verse A – This is similar to the first story of your speech
Chorus – This is the Foundational Phrase (or takeaway message) of your first story
Verse A – This is the second story of your speech
Chorus – This includes call backs to the Foundational Phrases of your first and second stories (or verses)
Bridge – According to Wikipedia, in music, the “…bridge is a contrasting section which also prepares for the return of the original material section.”
In other words, it is not the same as the verses but it gets you back to the verses afterwards. What does this mean for speaking? I strongly suggest at this point that you depart from your stories and head to something different like a short activity, some questions for your audience, a discuss and debrief, or something that will change the rhythm of the speech. This keeps your audience on their toes and energizes them.
Verse A – Once you’ve transitioned back from the bridge, you can tell your third story.
Chorus – This includes call backs to the Foundational Phrases from your three stories. When you repeat these phrases, it’s similar to the repetition of the chorus. Aren’t there some choruses you can’t get out of your head? Guess what? By repeating your Foundational Phrases throughout the rhythm of your speech, you will make them stick.
The Other Key to Having Rhythm when You Speak
Here’s the biggest key I learned for having rhythm w:
That’s right, it’s not what you say; it’s what you don’t say that matters. It also matters when you don’t say it. This involves timing.
I’m consistently reminded of something I read years ago that, through research, I found was said by Claude Debussy,
“Music is the silence between the notes.”
Later, through reading Deepak Chopra and others, I learned
“Without silence between notes, music would simply be noise”
No More Noise
I’ve always thought about those quotes related to speaking. So often speakers are worried about what they’re going to say. We need to also be mindful about when we’re going to be silent and let the rhythm speak.
For example, here is one very 43-second piece of a story I tell about a speaking hero of mine. Listen for the silence:
Welcome back. Did you hear it? There was a long silence between my notes and this affected my speech in several ways.
- When I became silent, my audience members began to experience the moment (the disappointment) with me
- They also wondered what I did (and what they would have done) in that situation
- It made them want to hear and see what was coming next
Silence built all of that up with the rhythm. Truth be told, the silence also allowed my movements to speak but, of course, you can’t see that through this audio clip.
Problem with Silence?
One of the big problems with silence is that many speakers are afraid of it. They’re afraid their audience will tune out or think that they have forgotten the speech.
In fact, think back to the silence you just heard in that audio. In a DVD I put out years ago that includes that same story, the videographer edited the video and took out those several seconds of silence! In other words, he removed that moment! I couldn’t believe it! I wanted to say, “Are you kidding me? That’s one of the most important parts of the story. That’s the let-down moment!” After all, I want music, not noise. So I had him put it back in.
The takeaway is to not be afraid of the silence. It will only give your speech the rhythm it deserves and provide your audience with an experience and a message they won’t soon forget. After all, you don’t usually forget what you experience.
What’s a moment in your speech that can use more silence? I challenge you to include that silence the next time you deliver that piece.
Speaking of silence, this is how I ended my world championship speech nearly two decades ago.
I said, “I’ll leave you with something more important than anything I’ve said today. I’ll leave you with this…”
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A piece of advice I received when I first started as a speaker was to always be dynamic. Only years later did I realize that when you’re always dynamic, you’re no longer dynamic.
Take a look at the following video lesson (a sample lesson from my 50SpeakingSecrets.com program) to see why many speakers are making the same mistake I used to make and are losing their audiences as a result.
How do you Bring It Down to a Conversation?
A fantastic bit of advice I received from Patricia Fripp over a decade ago was to overemphasize whatever you need to fix in rehearsal. For example, if you need to work on slowing down, overdo it in rehearsal. In other words, speak MUCH slower than you ever would on the real stage.
If you need to be more conversational, than overdo it in rehearsal. Take it WAY down as if you’re having almost a whispering conversation with one person.
As a result, you’ll find the happy medium when you reach the real stage. I’ve used this “overdo it” strategy for everything from my diction to my pace to my conversational tone and even to my facial expressions.
Overdo it to overcome it
On a scale from 1-10, how conversational do you believe you are when you are outside of your story and speaking face to face with your audience?
What can you do to improve that score?
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Crescendos are so important because they are the defining moments that bring the audience’s energy to its highest point. Without them, your audience can easily be deflated.
What’s a Crescendo?
Dictionary.com defines crescendo as “a steady increase in force or intensity” and “the climactic point or moment in such an increase; peak.”
I look at the crescendo as the highest peak of intensity or force within your story. However, to have a crescendo, you must build to it gradually. That means you can’t jump to it too quickly but you also can’t take too long to get there. There needs to be a gradual increase in excitement, intensity, or force so that it seems quite natural once you hit the peak.
Listen to the following example of my 2-minute car story wherein I gradually reach a crescendo. Even if you’ve heard the story before, listen for the crescendo and then feel what happens afterwards.
What was the highest peak of force and intensity? Right, when I yelled, “Where do I sign?!” That’s what we had been building up to the entire time.
What happens after the Crescendo?
What happens after the crescendo is just as critical as the crescendo itself. The key is to bring down the force and intensity afterwards and shift your energy in a way that says, “Okay, let’s get back to our conversation.”
After I yelled, “Where do I sign?” I gradually brought the level of force down and eventually became conversational again when I said, “Don’t sell the product, service, idea, or yourself; always sell the result.” In hindsight, I could have shifted the energy even more and dropped my voice to a low and slow level when I said that line. Why? Because even though you gradually reach your crescendo, you do not have to be gradual on the way back down. In fact, the immediate contrast will pull your audience in deeper and let them take a breather.
3 Steps to your next Crescendo
Step 1: Build up your level of force and intensity gradually
Step 2: Have the defining moment when you reach the highest peak of force and intensity
Step 3: Immediately shift your energy and bring yourself back to a conversational level
Being able to have at least one powerful crescendo per module will keep your audience hooked on where you are and where you’re going with the speech.
Do you have a story that builds into a definite crescendo? What kind of shift do you make immediately afterwards?
I challenge you to reach at least one crescendo in your very next speech.