I am often asked, “How do you give a speech using someone else’s talking points?”
Here’s an example: You work for a large institution that is sponsoring an event in your community. You have to represent your institution by giving a welcome speech. You work on your remarks and feel confident in your preparation, but the night before the speech, you receive an email from the public affairs department with a list of talking points to use. How are you supposed to sound natural and confident?
The best way to personalize the content is to bring in your own examples that make the content come to life.
Here are some tips to using the company’s talking points:
- If possible, set deadlines. If you’re in a position to do so, make it clear to your colleagues that you need talking points one week (or, realistically, at least two days) before the event so you have time to go over them.
- Rephrase in your own language. It’s hard to sound authentic when you’re using someone else’s language. Read the points out loud and ask yourself how you’d say the same thing in your own words. Whenever possible, use your own words – unless, for reasons of compliance, you have to use particular language.
- Add personal stories. The best way to personalize the content is to bring in your own examples that make the content come to life. If the talking points say, “Our institution has been a strong partner in the community for decades,” you can say, “I remember the very first time I volunteered at the [insert name of local venue] representing our institution. I have never felt prouder to work at this company.”
- Write your own opening and closing. The opening and closing sentences are the two most important parts of the speech – they capture the audience’s attention, creating a powerful first impression, and conclude your main points, leaving a powerful lasting impression. They are also highly contextual and relate to the specific audience in the room. Spend time crafting those sentences yourself; don’t let anyone else write them for you.
- Practice, practice, practice. The more you are able to practice the points in your own language, the more comfortable you will feel. Make the speech a priority and put aside at least 30 minutes per day (see our previous post on How to write a speech in 30 minutes).
What about when you need to use the company’s slides?
I always recommend minimal (if any) slides – a photo and a single phrase can be more powerful than endless graphs and charts. However, many companies dictate a standard template and use the slides as handouts instead (Remember: great slides make lousy handouts, and great handouts make lousy slides). Alternatively, someone else in your department might create the slides before the presentation.
The opening and closing sentences are the two most important parts of the speech – they capture the audience’s attention, creating a powerful first impression, and conclude your main points, leaving a powerful lasting impression.
Here are some tips to using the company’s slides:
- Write your speech before looking at the slides.
- Ask yourself The 3 Questions: who is your audience, what is your goal, and why you?
- Write your own main points.
- Write your own opening and closing sentences to reflect your personal interest and enthusiasm for the subject.
- Communicate your main points to the person designing the slides.
- Once you receive the slides, analyze them and find those that re-enforce your main points. If you are able to edit the slides to match your main points, do so.
- In the slides, use color to highlight your main points.
- For example, one of my client’s bosses always expected to see the same boring chart at every meeting, but he only wanted my client to speak about two or three key numbers on the chart. We shaded the entire chart in grey but made the key numbers dark blue so they stood out.
- Practice giving the speech – out loud – while clicking through the slides so you are familiar with your transitions.
- When giving the speech, speak to the audience instead of reading the slides word-for-word. It’s a clear sign that someone doesn’t know what they are talking about when they read their slides word-for-word. Summarize the information on the slides (and if possible, ensure the slides themselves contain phrases instead of full sentences).
Speaking using the company’s talking points or slides is challenging, but with the right preparation, you can give a presentation that is confident, authentic, and meaningful to both you and your audience.