Blog Nordic Business Forum 2019

What Makes a Winning Speech?

A few weeks have passed since we held the final round of our 2019 Speaker Contest, where six international finalists competed to win a spot on stage at Nordic Business Forum 2019 and earn €30,000 for the speaking engagement. Anssi Rantanen won the contest, which will make him the first Finn to give a keynote speech on our stage in 5 years. It was an incredible second edition of the contest and, personally, I enjoyed being able to take part as a spectator and observe how the organization and contestants have evolved.

But before we move on completely from the Speaker Contest for this year, I wanted to take some time to reflect on it – specifically, because many have asked me what makes a winning speech. I have to say, the quality of the speeches was very high, and the diversity in topics was broad and captivating. And while I learned a lot from everyone, there are three key characteristics that stood out to me that the more promising speeches had in common.

(Please note: I did not take part in the voting process or as a jury member, so these opinions and comments are my own.)

1. Innovate

Nordic Business Forum events are known to host the best world speakers, so it will be extremely difficult to stand out when your task is to talk about one of the same three topics that all the other competitors are talking about (innovation, strategy, and leadership, in this case). Beyond repeating your fellow contestants, you have to refrain from parroting other famous speakers who may have spoken at Nordic Business Forum events. So, how does one come up with solid content that is rooted in other people’s work? Innovate. You’re not going to win if you quote speakers that are going to be presenting their own research and findings on stage themselves. You are not the expert, in this case, they are! You need to find your own unique approach to presenting your information to make the audience think of you ask the expert on the subject. I know this is not easy, but it is the only way you can win the contest.

This is what we mean when we say we are looking for fresh ideas. Fresh ideas reframe a familiar problem with a creative solution and give the (often very distinguished and busy) audience some key takeaways that they can use to improve the way they do business. Remember, as a speaker, you’re addressing people who have heard more than their fair share of speeches and want to get a new perspective. You aren’t being original if you copy someone else’s perspective.

2. Dazzle

Content may be king, but that’s only half of the equation. You need your audience to listen to you. You need their attention, and what better way to get it than by making them feel like they will miss a lot if they are not listening? Our 2018 winner, James Hewitt, made people pay attention to how they pace their workdays and stressed the importance of following your own optimal rhythm to be productive and effective. The message may be clear, but it’s how he presented his message that captured people’s attention; he sported some impressive headgear throughout his presentation, which he explained was monitoring his stress levels in real-time. He even went so far as to switch from his presentation to the data collection dashboard to demonstrate the effect of his experienced stress and recovery periods. Was it a gimmick? Maybe. Was it impressive? Absolutely. It was a dazzling experience for the audience to see the peaks and troughs in stress levels that was unfolding in front of their eyes, and to a man who was presenting the knowledge in an authoritative and understandable way. Even while I was watching his presentation in the audience, I couldn’t help but gasp when I started to think about I pace myself during the day. (If you missed it, read the recap or watch it here!)

The 2019 winner, Anssi, also dazzled the audience with his performance. In explaining the rapid rate of change that technology has allowed for in business, he demonstrated how companies need to lean into the changes and keep up with the pace of the internet age. He stressed that, as business leaders, you need to be aware of any macro-level changes or risk being left out of the development curve and lose the game. And to do this practically, he… wait, I won’t spoil the surprise. He’ll be dazzling us again at NBForum 2019 and I want you to enjoy it firsthand. But, I can promise that you will be at the edge of your seat with your socks knocked off and your eyes glued to the stage for four truly dazzling minutes. It will make you smile and shake your head afterward!

3. Entertain

The last ingredient of the winning trifecta is perhaps the most difficult to teach: humor. You need to be able to entertain the audience throughout the speech – a feat which is most easily accomplished by a combination of timing and comic relief. Keep in mind that the endgame of this contest is to speak at Nordic Business Forum 2019, which is known for being the pain killer to other dull, boring business events. We want our customers to pay attention and learn. The best way to get to that position is to put on a show in which people feel entertained. And if you’re a speaker in this mix, you have to tap into people’s emotions, and then you’re on the right track. A great speech is remembered by the emotions first, the content second. Make people smile, make them laugh, make them reflect – that’s what elevates you from good to great. I have seen many professional speakers who have excellent content but do not deliver it in an entertaining way. As a result, no one listens to them.

In my experience, the most excellent entertainers do what they do for the sake of the audience, not for the sake of performing. And for this contest, winners make that connection with their audience. They reassure their audience that they made the right decision to listen to you because you and your message are valuable to them. To the current and future winners of our Speaker Contest, make a concerted effort to harness these feelings in your audience and make this the performance of a lifetime.

I’ll end on this note: Just as there are different divisions in sports, there are different tiers of speakers and Nordic Business Forum looks for the best the world has to offer. James and Anssi have risen to the challenge and, on behalf of my team, I’d like to wish Anssi the best of luck for Nordic Business Forum 2019. And, for anyone considering applying for the contest in the future, I hope these reflections help you reflect on your abilities as a speaker and help you become a better public speaker, especially on all things related to business and leadership.

Interested to learn more about Nordic Business Forum 2019? Find out more here.

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