People Management: Coaching session

Q. I'm a boring speaker. I'm too cerebral. How can I liven up and get a round of applause?

Do you watch BBC 1's Question Time? The audience there behaves like a crowd, and crowds have properties distinct from the individuals within it.

Those in the audience only comprehend rough and ready associations of ideas. They understand sentiments that animate them. They like to be fired up. In other words, your audience does not care how clever you are, which is bad news for nuance and logic.

Remember, you get applause when you reaffirm what the audience believes, so the first rule is to find out what your audience wants to hear and think about how you can target your speech to give it to them.

Study how politicians handle speeches and the press - the run-up to the election is probably a good time to do this. Politicians understand how to maximise the volume and duration of applause. The first thing is rhythm: you should start quietly, but with something arresting - a few pithy remarks and perhaps even an argument. To maximise applause, it is imperative that you end your speech well and clearly. If you don't have time to rehearse all your speech, try to have at least the first and last sentences sorted.

Look at your language. This should generate images. The 'three trick' is often useful, as in: "Funding systems are crap. Funding systems need reform. And funding reform must begin now."

For goodness sake, make eye contact with your audience. Don't sit there looking at your notes. Stand up. Walk in front of the table. Look at specific people in the audience. People will notice you are addressing remarks at them. Others will notice this too.

Of course, this means you can't read from a prepared script. Have a small postcard with key points, then talk to your audience. This may help you to appear less cerebral. Don't spend time crafting clever arguments as though you were delivering a university lecture - think of The Sun. My final tip is: don't be long, don't be boring and enjoy it.

In 149 BC, Cato the Elder had this summed up: "Grasp the subject; the words will follow."

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send questions to

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