Speaking Tips: Surprise isn’t your best tactic

Ever see a speaker try to build up to a surprise revelation, only to let down the audience with either something that was really obvious, or worse – something that was artificially forced to be the opposite of obvious?

Are there times when surprise can work for a speaker? Certainly.

Times not to surprise?

1. The introduction. Unless you landed a last-minute-famous-name-surprise-keynote for your group, there is rarely a good reason to withhold their name until the end of the introduction. Better: include the name early in the introduction, without a pause, and then say their name a second time at the end to welcome them to the front. Make sure to tell them your plan so they don’t charge up too early.

2. Your main points. Of course you can use teasers, but some speakers will try to force the element of surprise too long. I once saw a speaker that wanted to tell us about a group of words he had been taught that we could all benefit from. All of them were to be four letter words, and he teased us by including that a couple would start with H, a couple with D, one with S and one with F. By the third word it was clear even to the sleepers that there was no profanity coming, but he kept trying to act like the next one “might shock you”.

3. When the audience doesn’t want to be there. You’ve been in that audience, right? Compelled by the boss (or the boss’ boss) to be at a training event, the last things you want are to hear how impressive the speaker is or some loooong lead in to why you’re there. If you are that speaker, don’t try to hold that audience with a surprise ending. Make a connection with them, let them know your point, and make sure they know you value their time.

Just like with any suggestions, there are exceptions that you will discover in your own practice. However, if your default plan is to work with your audience instead of trying to impress them, you’ll see a stronger connection and you’ll have a stronger impact than with tricks and surprises.

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