How hard is it to ask for help? For me, it’s nearly impossible. Earlier this year, I reached out to a colleague — a fellow speaker — and asked for a pep talk. I felt like I was doing everything the wrong way, and I needed to hear some kind words. I promised not to take up too much of his time.

He responded back that he was pretty busy with his super-successful life, right now, but I could sign up for one of his coaching classes and he could help me.

So, yeah, to say that I was hurt was an understatement. That’s when I decided to be the opposite of this guy and give it all away for free. I would proactively share everything I know about writing, speaking, blogging and HR technology marketing. I hope it helps someone who needs it right now. You don’t need to sign up for anything. It’s free.

So, last week I told you about what makes a great HR post. Now I’d like to share with you what makes a great HR speech. Here’s the first lesson: it has nothing to do with HR and everything to do with solving a problem, which sounds cliché but it totally true.

If you’re up on stage with the goal making someone’s life better, you are off to a good start.

If you want to get “good” on stage, there are tried and true experts who can help you write a speech and communicate it with intention. For specific advice, go follow Nick Morgan and Ita Olsen. You can also follow Jennifer McClure and Kris Dunn. They are the top tier speakers in the HR space, right now. You could do worse than to achieve their level of success.

The best way I can help you give a great HR speech is by showing you how to beat failure. And I’ve got some video to illustrate my points.

Nail the Introduction with a Story

Rookie speakers get too caught up in themselves trying to prove that they deserve to be in the spotlight. Paul Hebert taught me that you should begin your speech with an excellent introduction from someone else. Let the event planner or the conference chairman share your accomplishments. Don’t waste time with stupid intros and chit chat, strain your voice to get everybody excited, and talk about yourself. Get going by nailing the introduction with a story that illustrates the problem you’re trying to solve.

Here’s what a bad into looks like, and I should know because I’ve given this intro far too often.

Note the shoulders by my ears and the closed eyes. That’s what happens when your ego is in the way, and you are thinking about your anxiety and not the audience.

Use Emotion to Your Advantage

Have you ever seen a great speaker who makes you cry? I have, and those moments are so powerful and important. It’s an honor when someone shares her story on stage and hopes that you’ll learn from it, too. But far too many speakers take a personal struggle and turn it into a barely tangential, emotionally manipulative anecdote to teach people about HR.

I’ve heard a lot about dead parents, autoimmune disorders and cancer. It’s all very moving, but sometimes I’m like — What just happened here? If you’ve been through some trying times, my only request is that you make sure there’s something in that experience for your audience. Don’t try to force a link to HR where none exists. When done poorly, this is how it looks:

And, for the record, trauma and healing are rarely linear. Most people don’t learn anything from tragedy and misfortune. So whenever a speaker tugs at my heartstrings, I’m cynical and want to ask — Did it really happen the way you said it happened? Is this true?

Verify Your Scientific Data

Finally, pseudoscience is the handmaiden of HR. People love to use scientific studies that haven’t been replicated and apply those “findings” to the world of management and human resources. Sometimes science is valid, but mostly it’s garbage. Even Amy Cuddy’s power pose theory has been debunked. If it makes you feel good, do it. But let’s not call it science.

Use science and research to illustrate your point, but be careful not to hang your hat on a TEDTalk.

So, What Makes a Great HR Speech?

A great HR speech is a work of art, and, like most works of art, the artist must practice and refine her techniques. This requires a ton of practice, and, honestly, some rejection. Not every speech you give will change someone’s life. Sometimes you’ll bomb. But if you try to keep your ego out of the equation and don’t emotionally manipulate your audience into liking you or applauding because of a tragedy, you will learn and grow.

And then, one day, you can speak at an HR conference. You’ll stand on stage, deliver the keynote speech of your life, and someone will leave you a comment that your skirt is too short or your tattoos are too unprofessional. And you’ll reach out to a fellow speaker for a pep talk, and he’ll try to get you to buy something from him.

Lucky you, what a career choice!

One Response to How to Give a Great HR Speech
  1. Kathy Claytor

    L R is my hero