What Stormzy's Speech can Teach you About How to Nail your Next Big Stage Presentation

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It's graduation season. This means it's also the time of year when the recipients of Honorary Doctorates take to the stage and address the class of 2022.

Stomzy was one of them. And it's gone down rather well. If you haven't seen it yet, have a watch and perhaps take stock of some of the lessons learned below.

Lesson 1: Make your audience giggle (and quickly)

Stormzy managed to do it with his first sentence. 4 seconds in, everyone was chuckling. Sure, they weren't in fits of laughter, but it was enough to break the ice.

The secret to a great icebreaker is not to plan it.

Instead, let the day's events determine the direction. For Stormzy, all he had to do was be himself. The formality of a graduation ceremony is a far cry from the atmosphere he is used to at his gigs. And make no mistake about it, it's far easier to match the formality of the occasion than to be yourself. Herein lies the simplistic genius of:

'What's happening guys?!'

Aim to break the ice with your first sentence.

Lesson 2: Bring two personalities to the stage

Watching this you'll notice that Official Stormzy does most of the talking. He's the one who delivers what's been planned. Then there's Authentic Stormzy who chirps in from time to time, injecting humour and honesty into the message.

Official Stormzy: You guys had the guts and the grit and the dedication that it takes to study for years and to finish a degree...

Authentic Stormzy: Whereas I got my AS results in my first year of college and said, see you later! 

This is deliberate. I've seen countless world-class presenters use it to bring a presentation to life.

Lesson 3: Keep your most important sentences short

'You should also be so proud of yourselves. What you have achieved is incredible.

Don't let anybody downplay it.

Don't let anybody undermine it.

If you are sat in this room today, you are worthy and you are brilliant.'

They help your message land.

Lesson 4: Look up

Stormzy didn't. But he should have.

The fact he's 6ft 4 and makes the lectern look as small as a side table didn't help. The main reason though was due to an overreliance on the script. When you deliver a speech like this, it's easy to pour hours of your time into carefully crafting the sentences. In my opinion, those hours are time well spent and it's only natural that you want to do those words justice on the day.

I don't believe this was a case of Stormzy not practising. He's a performer. He understands the importance of rehearsing more than most.

I think his mistake was practising with the script. What he should have done was practice with prompts.

Here's how:

  • Distil each section of your talk down to a couple of prompts.
  • One section at a time, use those prompts to rehearse, refine, and repeat until what you're saying comes out at ~90% accuracy.
  • Finally, when you’re happy with the general flow, start connecting the sections together. 

By doing this you are practising what's known as active recall. It's considered the most effective way to remember things.

You’ll know when you’re on the right track by the amount of time it takes you to deliver each section. It will be agonisingly slow to start with. But as your memory recall improves it will speed up and level out it takes you less time to communicate each section. Not because you’re speaking any faster, but because the flow has become familiar and your mouth has developed muscle memory for the sentences you're saying.

So practice active recall.

Lesson 5: Smile, first and last

He might not have looked up enough, but every time he did, he smiled and you can't help but warm to him.

I once heard that you smile 33% of the time you think you're smiling, but have since found no science to back that up. It's always stuck with me though, so I thought I'd bold it in the hope that it a useful urban myth that spreads!

A smile is the easiest way to connect with your audience and yet so few speakers do it. So be the one that does. Make a smile be the first and last thing your audience sees when you next present.

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Speech Stats (taken from MicDrop Analytics [in beta])

Alex Merry, public speaking coach, presentation skills, thought leadership, communication training, leadership development, TED talks, keynote speech

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