Make Your Speeches More Visual and Memorable with 3 Tools

Patricia Fripp once said to me, “Craig, people will not remember what you say as much as they will remember what they see when you say it.” In other words, we have to make our speeches very visual in order to have the deepest impact. Here are 3 ways to accomplish this:

Tool # 1: Put Your Audience Members Somewhere In Your Scene

Storytelling is not about re-stating what happened. It is about reliving what happened and inviting your audience into your “re-living room.” For example, listen to the following excerpt from one of my speeches:

Question: Where are you in my scene?

Answer: You are sitting on the sofa beside my wife and me.

I set the scene up so that you are actually in it, hearing what was said and re-living it with me. Re-stating (narrating) always puts your speech in the past. However, when you put your audience into your re-living room, it is as if they are actually in the present as the story unfolds. Here are some other ways I bring audience members into my scene:

Question: Where are you in my scene?

Answer: In my passenger’s seat

Here’s another one.

Question: Where are you in my scene?

Answer: On my telephone


Yet another one

Question: Where are you in my scene?

Answer: Walking into the doctor’s office with my wife, my daughter, and me


 One final example:

Question: Where are you in my scene?

Answer: Walking towards me in the Chicago Airport


 Important note:

You do not always have to make bringing them into the scene the first thing you do in the story. Sometimes I introduce characters and tap into my audience with a question before I actually bring them into my scene. However, when you put a story together, always ask, “Where in my scene will I place my audience members?”


One Caveat about putting your audience members in your scene

Recently I have seen many speakers say something like this, “If you had been sitting next to me…” This is fine. However, later in the same speech they say, “If you had been standing next to me…” That’s not fine. When you bring your audience members into your scene, you have to find ways to mix it up. Don’t bring them in the same way each time. Be creative with it.



Tool #2: Check The VAKS

When you create a scene, it is important to engage your audience members’ senses. VAKS stands for Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Smell. When you invite your audience members into your scene, you want to make sure these VAKS are present. Here is the same excerpt from my sofa speech. Listen to it again and then answer the questions below it.

Visual question: What could you see in that scene?

Answer: The black sofa.


Auditory question: What could you hear?

Answer: You could hear my wife. That is why I specifically used the word “heard” so that I could reach the auditory learners.


Kinesthetic question: What could you feel?

Answer: My audiences usually say, “I could feel the leather.” Sometimes they say, “I could feel the love.” I usually respond with, “Love and leather always go together.”


Smell question: What could you smell in my scene?

Answer: The cookies. In fact, you might even been able to taste them, which of course is another sense. So I checked the VAKS in this story. Make sure you do the same with your scenes.


Two Important Caveats about Checking the VAKS

Make sure you set your scene quickly so you do not take away from your story. If you drone on and on about the VAKS, then you will lose your audience because you will not get to the conflict (the hook) of the story fast enough. I try to set my scenes and check the VAKS within about 10 seconds (15 at the most).

Also, try not to make the VAKS too poetic. Poetic is fine for a novel, but a speech needs to sound more realistic. In other words, use words you would use in everyday conversation as if you are talking to a friend.

Speak like you talk, not like you write



Tool #3 Give Your Characters a Hint

Your characters are the stars of your speech and it is difficult for an audience to connect with characters they cannot envision. The key as a speaker is to just give a hint to what your characters look and act like. For example, check out the following excerpt from one of my stories:

How do you see her in your mind? Petite and pink are just small hints that give the audience momentum to start filling in the rest of her. That is the key. In order for your audience to own a piece of your character, they need to create part of that character.

If you give too much descriptive information, you take away your audience’s ownership. People buy into what they create, so let them buy into your characters by creating them. On the other hand, if you provide little information (i.e. no hint) your audience will not have much to go on and so they probably will not see anyone in their mind.


Here are several creative ways to give a hint


Give it in the dialog: You can have one character say, “Oh wow, I like the new look. When did you become a blonde?”

Give it in posture: Give your character a certain posture or specific gestures while he or she speaks. For example, for the old homeless lady I have in one of my stories, I take a posture that is slightly bent at the waste and speak almost as if I am lecturing in a grandmotherly way. Your audience will remember what they see so make sure you take on the physical characteristics of your character.

Give it in the voice: The way your character sounds will help your audience see him or her. For example, I have a story about when I am 10 years old and I run into a man I call Mr. H. Mr. H is a father of one of my friends and I give his lines in a slightly raspier voice than normal. Of course, he also takes a posture of an authority figure in my life at that time.

Later on in the story, as I fast-forward 18 years, it becomes rather amusing that I now take the authority stance as I tower over him when I speak. The voice I give him helps my audience picture him because they probably have people in their lives who speak like him. I do not care exactly how they see him; I just care that they see him.

The key is to understand that you can give more than verbal hints in order to help your audience see your characters.

FYI – For Mr. H., I also use dialog to give a hint of his description but it is way more subtle than “How did you become a blonde.” For example, I have him say to me, “I saw you in the newspaper. Brother, that is wonderful what you were able to accomplish.” The key word in that sentence is “brother”. The combination of the word brother and Mr. H’s voice and dialect gives my audience the impression that he is an African-American man about 25-30 years my senior. My audience is right.


One Caveat Regarding Posture and Voice

Do not go overboard with the posture or with the voice. It is distracting and annoying when a speaker takes on the character of a child and speaks in the child’s high-pitched voice. Instead, make everything subtle. You can speak in a slightly higher pitch and you can look up slightly too as a child would when speaking to a standing adult. The actual use of words and expressions in your eyes can be that of the child but there is no need to take on that child’s actual voice.


Your Turn

Do you put your audience members somewhere inside of your scene? If so, what the phrase you use to get them there?


 Final thoughts

If you use these three tools, not only will your speeches become more visual, but you will become more visible because more and more audiences will want to see you speak. As always, keep speaking up.

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