Steve Martin Explains How To Deliver A Great Speech

Brilliance | Dec. 10, 2017

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Got a big speech coming up? Whether you're presenting to your bosses or delivering a Maid of Honor speech or rallying your fellow humans to fight off an alien invasion, your ability to connect with an audience is key.

But public speaking isn't easy. On a list of fears, Americans rank public speaking as scarier than earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, blizzards, loneliness, dying, theft, volcanoes, aging, needles, mass shootings, kidnappings and ghosts.

So who better to help you get over your fear and nail your presentation better than Steve Martin? That's right. Steve Martin.

Learn From the Masters

MasterClass offers a series of detailed video lessons, allowing you the opportunity to learn the secrets of some of the world's most notable creators: Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting, Frank Gehry Teaches Design & Architecture, Gordon Ramsay Teaches Cooking. It's an incredible resource to learn from luminaries in all kinds of fields.

In the case of Steve Martin, he breaks down the secrets of comedy. Imagine trying to deliver a funny monologue in front of a stone-faced Daniel Day-Lewis, Harrison Ford, Jack Nicholson, and more than 33 million people sitting at home. That's exactly what Martin did as host of the Academy Awards in 2001, 2003, and 2010. So how does he prepare for such a prestigious gig?

Prep Work

Martin says you have to start by envisioning yourself at the venue. What is the room like? What kind of audience be there? What sort of occasion is it? Try to imagine what it will be like to stand there and speak.

Once you've thought that through, start small. Write something short and try it in front of a friend or two. In his MasterClass, Martin says he tests his material on people he knows. "I just go up to my wife if I have a thought and say, 'Do you think this is funny?' Or I'll call Martin Short and say, 'Do you think this is funny?' If I'm at that point where I say, 'Do you think this is funny?' that means it could go either way."

Martin also explains that you don't have to be overly formal when testing material on friends. Just ask them what they think and gauge their reactions. Are you seeing a cringe or a wince? Does their attention wander? If you can't captivate an audience of one, it's hard to own a room.

Slow Your Roll

If you're aiming for laughs, Martin says delivery is everything. He explains that a joke may succeed or fail based simply on how you deliver it.

To succeed with a joke, timing is key. Consider when you want to pause, when you want to speed up, or when you want to wait for a reaction. If you say a joke that hits with your audience, you should wait for the laughter to die, but you shouldn't let the laughs end completely. Martin says you should resume talking while there's still some laughter going on.

Martin says that even though your nerves might be going crazy before a speech, you should force yourself to slow down. "If you slow down, you get more attention from the audience. When you break your rhythm and your volume is raising and lowering, you have all these different colors you can use," Martin said. "It's your tempo, it's your space between the words, it's your really 'negative' moments when you're not talking — that is timing." Martin explains that varying your delivery ensures the audience will stay locked into what you're saying.

Special Delivery

Your body language matters, too. Martin says you should align your body with the kind of speech you're delivering. Gestures (even small ones) can illustrate your point. In the MasterClass, he demonstrates how you can hold the audience's attention by simply pausing and being deliberate with your physicality.

Also, you want to create the illusion that your speech is being presented for the first time. Even if you've rehearsed it a million times, you want to keep spontaneity in play so the audience has to pay attention. "Look like you're thinking," Martin says. "Look like you're thinking it up. If you look like you're riffing (ad-libbing), that's a little bit of a plus."

How do you wrap up your speech? Martin advocates reaching back to the beginning or middle of your speech to find a theme or idea to call back. Ending with something already established gives the speech a sense of completion the audience will appreciate.

Whether you want to learn about comedy, cooking, writing, singing, acting, chess, jazz, tennis, photography, or even building a fashion brand, MasterClass has a world-class instructor who can guide you. Sign up and you'll have lifetime access to any class you choose.

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