After the waitress poured my coffee in the Washington Hilton Hotel's restaurant, I turned to the lady beside me at the counter and asked, "Will you pass the cream, please?"
She answered, "No, I won't."
Naturally, I wondered if I had heard her wrong. So again I asked her, this time emphasizing the word "please." Once more, she declined.
Confused, I inquired: "Do you mind telling me why you won't pass the cream?"
"Sure," she said, without changing expression. "Because you expect me to. Now and then, I like to surprise people who are so sure about what I am going to say and do."
For a minute, I thought about her response. Then I answered, "Well, now that I know your motive, I commend you for being unique. You have surprised me--really surprised me. But the fact remains, I still need the cream. Will you pass it now?"
She slid the cream across the countertop, smiled, and wished me a good day.
Every time I remember that jarring incident, I'm convinced there is a message there for those who want to improve their speaking skills: "Dare to try something out of the ordinary."
Consider the ordinary speech--a shopworn joke to begin with, three main points, quotes from Mark Twain and Abe Lincoln, and stories you have heard from other speakers. No wonder audiences become jaded, and anticipate boredom--which happens way too frequently.
So the next time you speak, surprise your audience. Don't "pass the cream" just because they expect you to. Consider these departures from custom:
Display an unusual visual aid.
Yes, I use Power Point sometimes, but never with text alone. Every slide includes photos, clip art, or both.
Also, you can insert an audio message or video message into your Power Point, giving welcomed variety. Music helps, too.
Speak five minutes when the audience expects twenty.
A speaker did this at a Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner. Months later, audience members talked about the impact of his speech.
Change into a costume.
At a national convention, I saw a speaker take of his coat and tie, then present his message in a tee-shirt that displayed his logo. Catchy and memorable, for sure.
Arrange for an audience member to interrupt your speech.
When she starts debating you, audience interest will soar. A friend with decent acting skills can make the interruption look spontaneous.
Play a recording of "Hail to the Chief" as you approach the podium.
You'll generate good natured laughter before you say a word.
As long as you use good taste, you can grab--and maintain--attention in unforgettable fashion... just like the woman who told me she wouldn't pass the cream.