Public Speaking: How To Speak About A “Boring” Topic

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 2, 2011 – 6:32 am

Is it possible to deliver a fascinating speech about a boring topic?

My firm has presentation training clients in the trucking, finance, and waste water management industries. I know, fascinating stuff, right? No wonder so many of my clients in those industries tell me that they struggle to deliver a compelling speech about such “boring” topics.

They’re usually surprised when I tell them there’s no such thing as a boring topic, just boring speakers.

It’s true that some topics are more inherently interesting than others. But I’ve regularly watched in awe as talented speakers in “boring” industries deliver speeches that move their audiences to tears, laughter, or both.

Last month, I worked with Brian Harrison, the Director of Insurance Marketing for Commonwealth Financial Network. My job was to help him prepare for an upcoming presentation about a “boring” topic: insurance. After we spent a few minutes discussing his talk, I asked him to present the opening he had prepared. He blew me away. I wish I could claim some credit for his terrific performance, but the credit belongs solely to Brian. It’s worth your time to watch his introduction: 

Here are five things Brian did to make his “boring” speech interesting:

1. He Began With a Story: Not only are stories inherently interesting, but social science has confirmed that they help people remember key points more easily.

2. He Created The Frame: By beginning with a story, Brian set a larger framework for his talk. It was no longer a speech about insurance products (boring), but a talk about helping people through insurance products (interesting).

3. He Took His Time: Many speakers are reluctant to begin a speech with a four-minute story. Trainees have told me that they’re afraid a long story will be seen as self-indulgent, overly-dramatic, or even as a “waste” of valuable time. But Brian proved how effective it can be to begin with a story, deliver it at an engaging but relaxed pace, and grab the audience’s attention from the very first moment.

4. He Gave The Audience a Roadmap: Brian didn’t begin his talk by showing the audience six bullets on a PowerPoint slide containing his session’s agenda. But he did give them a roadmap – after finishing his story. Once he completed his story, Brian transitioned to his agenda by saying, “So what we’ll talk about today is…”

5. He Didn’t Rely on PowerPoint: Brian didn’t use PowerPoint during his opening. Almost five minutes into his talk, he turned to the PowerPoint for the first time after saying, “So let’s get started.”

Thank you to Commonwealth Financial Network, which graciously waived the confidentiality agreement with our firm in order to share this terrific video with my readers.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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