Six ways to exaggerate during your next formal speech

Earlier this month, my husband had the honor of officiating the wedding of one of his closest friends. And in the weeks before the wedding, I had the honor of advising my husband on the content and the delivery of his ceremony. (Good news: we’re still married!)

As we were practicing, I showed my husband video of his rehearsal to point out how subtle some of his verbal and nonverbal cues were. He was surprised, as are many speakers who review themselves on video. Here are areas that he and others should exaggerate, particularly when they are presenting to larger audiences:

1. Articulation

When we are in conversational mode, speakers often get lazy and lose the crispness of articulation. They might drop the “g” at the end of an “ing” or “t” off a word like “difficult.” When you are speaking on a microphone before a large audience, especially one that is outdoors or with competing background noise, speakers need to avoid this habit and move their mouth and face in an exaggerated fashion so they are easily understandable.

2. Inflection

A subtle emphasis of a word or phrase is generally sufficient in a small group to add sarcasm or other meaning to a sentence. But before a large audience, this subtlety is lost. For example, at the end of the ceremony, my husband included a laugh line about his officiating certification that required inflection, “by the authority granted in me – by the Universal Life Church and the State of Washington – I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Without really hamming up his inflection and facial expression when he said “Universal Life Church,” the joke fell flat. When it was exaggerated at the ceremony, it successfully won laughs from attendees.

3. Volume

Giving a speech before a large audience should be exhausting, largely because you need to constantly focus on speaking loudly. Speakers should exert lots of energy breathing deeply and tapping into their lowest, most resonant tone. Even if you have access to a microphone, exaggerate your normal conversational volume so that the amplified tone is commanding and not tinny.

4. Rate and pauses

Two elements of speaking that must be exaggerated are speaking rate and pausing. In my husband’s ceremony, he spoke slower than normal to improve intelligibility. He also stretched the pauses after laugh lines (so people could laugh), after serious or sentimental moments (so people could digest), and at points of transition (so people could follow). If you have difficulty with your speaking rate, go back to tip #1 – when you articulate clearly, you generally slow down. If you have difficulty pausing long enough, you might write in your notes a prompt to count to five (in your head, of course!) when you need to pause.

5. Smiling

When I reviewed the video of a rehearsal with my husband, I said, “I can tell that you’re really trying to smile.” He burst out laughing because what felt to him like a huge smile came across to viewers as a half-hearted, strained grin. You really do have to significantly exaggerate your smile for it to read as genuine enthusiasm. And, you have to do it throughout your presentation (or whenever you aren’t delivering bad news or sad material).

6. Gestures

Don’t forget to exaggerate your gestures too. A small flick of the hand is all that’s needed when you’re speaking to a few friends or colleagues – not so when you have a large audience. Aim to make your movements larger and slower so they aren’t lost on listeners.

Luckily, my husband is a quick study who did some theatre when he was younger, so was comfortable significantly punching up the delivery for our final rehearsals and the actual wedding. For most speakers, the exaggerating itself isn’t the hard part – it’s recognizing that it is needed and realizing that it’s not over the top for presentations before larger audiences.