One of the toughest kind of speeches to make is an after-dinner speech since everyone will be feeling sleepy after their meal. And worse, they may not even give you their full attention. There are many things that can go wrong and as an after-dinner keynote speaker, there are a couple of things you have to observe in order to be successful or at the very least, to sit down without feeling embarassed.
1. Find an appropriate topic
As a speaker, you have to find a topic that ALL your audience can relate to. And this applies to all kind of speeches, particulatly after-dinner speeches. There are many things that are against you. At most dinners, tables are rounded. That means to say that a percentage of your audience has their back facing you. Circular tables also facilitate small talks which gives them another reason not to listen to you. Your audience's attention span is also not at its highest. Many of them may still be enjoying their desserts. You have waiters and waitresses walking around to clear the dishes, which can be both distracting for your audience and you! As you can see, there are many reasons for them not to listen to you. You do not need to give them another one.
So spend at least 30% of your time researching your audience. Find out more about the organization. Find out more about your audience - what do they do, what are some of their concerns, what are the taboo topics. The organizer would be a great resource for you to understand the audience. Sometimes they may even propose some topics that you can talk about. It also helps to be aware of the current trends in the world because very likely, your audience knows about it as well, and they would be able to relate when you talk about it.
Let me give you a specific example. Last night I attended a dinner that was commemorating the Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. The audience were made up of various Asian ethnic communities that come together to promote understanding and acceptance of the different Asian cultures and heritage. I thought their vision was commendable and the keynote speaker could emphasize on the importance of collaboration and acceptance (since that was what drove them to set up this association)
However one of the speakers took the entire 15 minutes his tribulations in Vietnam and how he was invited to be part of the association. Quite frankly, the entire speech was about HIM, and not about the audience. That's a major turn-off. What he could have done is to explain the increasing importance of the association and how each and everyone of them can benefit from being part of this association. Notice how the focus changes. It is more audience-centric and there is a take home message. What I got our of the speaker's speech was "Wow... he was imprisioned for three years in Vietnam..."
2. Own the space!
Right after the war survivor was yet another keynote speaker. He started off well with a story about how people would always ask about his nationality. That created some laughs and he was off for a good start. And then the entire speech went crashing. At the end of his speech, I felt extremely embarrassed for him.
Firstly, no one except for the three tables in front (out of courtesy) were listening to him. Everyone else was busy chattering away, walking in and out of the restaurants to make phone calls. It doesn't help that he stood behind the podium. It doesn't help that he was reading from his script with his eyes down most of the time. It doesn't help that he was inaudible. It doesn't help that he failed to salvage the situation. Amidst of the chaos, he gave his speech, oblivious to the fact that he is losing everyone. And the organizer has to go around shushing everyone. How embarassing and unnecessary!
One advice for him: You got to own the space!
When you come up on stage, you got to consciously tell yourself that you are in charge. You own the space! Every inch of the room belongs to you. Every single one of your audience is obliged to drop everything that they are doing and listen to you. Even the waiters and waitresses will stop in their steps and listen to you. Every thing that you do or not do commands the listening of your audience. In other words, nothing else matters except you. That's how powerful a speaker can be if he effectively manages the "energy" of the room. One way to do that is through a visualization exercise before your speech. Imagine yourself walking confidently up on stage. Hear the reverberating sound of your foot steps as you walked up on the stage. Feel the anticipation of your audience as you walked towards to the podium... Make use of all your five senses to create the best speech you can ever made. You can even add a standing ovation at the end of your speech! And guess what, you have almost won the entire game even before you start!
And among all other things, avoid standing behind the podium and project your voice to the back of the room. Make sure that everyone can see and hear you. Only that will they be able to feel your speech and be inspired by your message!
The next time you listen to an after-dinner speech or give one yourself, watch how these two principles manifest itself. Good luck!
By Eric Feng