Steps of Preparing a Speech



Choosing a Topic

When choosing your speech topic, brainstorm to generate many ideas, and distill those ideas to find your singular topic.

Learning Objectives

Discuss different strategies for choosing a speech topic

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Before you can begin writing your speech, you must first establish the main topic about which you plan to speak.
  • Brainstorm early and often! You can try a variety of techniques to get your mental juices flowing, from clustering to free writing. Even just talking through your ideas with another person as a sounding board is a great way to get ideas.
  • Once you start to get an idea of your topic, do a little preliminary research. See what others may have written or said about your general topic; reading their ideas may help give you some new ideas or directions of your own.

Key Terms

  • distill: To extract the essence of; concentrate; purify.
  • brainstorming: A method of problem solving in which individuals or members of a group contribute ideas spontaneously.
  • topic: Subject; theme; a category or general area of interest.

Choose Your Topic

An image of an idea cluster for the subject "gardening." The subject (gardening) is in the circle in the middle and the main points (researching and purchasing plants and seeds, preparing the ground, fertilizing, weeding, watering, harvesting, and preparing the garden for winter) are connected to the circle with lines.

Clustering: An example of an idea cluster for the subject “gardening.”

As you begin to prepare for any speech, it’s important to pin down exactly about what you plan to talk. You might have been given a specific topic by a professor or supervisor, or you may be simply invited to speak at an event where the topic is up to you. Knowing how to carefully select your topic is an important first step in preparing for a successful speech.

Start by thinking about your venue. Where will you be giving your speech? To whom will you be speaking? (We’ll get to analyzing your audience in the next section. ) Then, start to think about what you know about the topic, and move towards those subjects or tangents about which you don’t know. It’s helpful to speak about a topic with which you are already familiar, but sometimes you may be called into situations where you have no prior knowledge about a given subject.

In either instance, it’s helpful to approach your topic through brainstorming.

Brainstorming

One of the best ways to help solidify your speech topic is to brainstorm. You can brainstorm by yourself, or you might want to bring in a few friends, colleagues or classmates to help you come up with ideas in a group setting. You can brainstorm using a number of different exercises.

Word Association

Start with a broad topic idea. What words, topics, or other subjects do you associate with that first topic? Now what words, topics, or other subjects do you associate with the following word? Continue this chain of word association to give you a broad spectrum of ideas.

Clustering

Also known as mind-mapping, clustering gives your word association a visual form. Start with your main idea and draw a circle around it, thinking of it like the hub of a wheel. Now, begin to write other associated ideas, topics, or subcategories related to that main topic around the hub, and connect them as separate spokes. From each spoke, begin to jot down other associated ideas and thoughts. As your cluster begins to grow, you might want to connect smaller spokes to one another and create new links between subjects.

Freewriting

This is probably the simplest brainstorm method of all. Set a timer and begin writing whatever thoughts or ideas come to mind about your particular subject. You might find it easier to type your freewriting instead of writing it by hand, so you can keep up with your thoughts faster. Whatever you do, don’t stop writing.

Another way of freewriting is to record yourself talking for a set period of time and then transcribing your key points to go back to and clarify later. Once your time is up, go back and highlight or circle relevant points or topics that stick out for you. You’ll refine these later.

Distill Your Ideas into One Topic

Once you’ve brainstormed your many ideas, it’s time to refine your ideas and distill them into one topic. Look for themes, patterns, and commonalities when going through your brainstorming notes. Use these themes to help guide you toward a singular topic.

Do a Little Homework

While you will definitely research your topic, you might want to do some “presearch” – that is, a little research before the real research. Do a quick scan to see what others have said or written about your topic. This might give you even more ideas of how to refine and distill your topic, or more appropriately adapt it to your audience or venue.

Analyzing the Who, Why, and Where

Knowing and understanding your audience is one of the most important parts of developing an effective speech.

Learning Objectives

Indicate the factors speakers should keep in mind when assessing their audience

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Take into account the demographics of your audience: gender, age, industry, the event at which you’re speaking, common interests, culture and ethnicity, and how much they already may or may not know about your speech topic.
  • Never stereotype your audience based on any of their demographics.
  • Be mindful of gestures, colloquialisms, idioms, or other ethnocentric expressions (slang, mannerisms, etc. ) you might make during your speech. It’s important to recognize what is accepted in one culture may be offensive in another.

Key Terms

  • demographic: A demographic criterion: a characteristic used to classify people for statistical purposes, such as age, race, or gender.
  • ethnocentrism: The tendency to look at the world primarily from the perspective of one’s own culture.
  • stereotype: A conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image.

Analyze Your Audience

A picture of an audience at a theater.

Knowing the Audience: A speaker should consider the audience in order to craft an effective and successful speech.

Once you’ve established your topic, it’s time to focus on whom you’re speaking to. Next to identifying your topic, understanding your audience is one of the most important things you can do in preparing for your speech.

Understanding Your Demographics

Think about your audience: what do they look like? What might they have in common? What might you have in common with them? These are important things to consider as you begin to get a sense of just who will be sitting in front of you when you deliver your speech.

Consider the gender of your audience: male, female, or a mix? Are they older, younger? Would you consider them your peers? Have you met any of them before? Think about all the possible demographics of your audience including gender, age, national origin, ethnicity, culture, and occupation. But remember: just because you might be speaking to one group of people, that doesn’t mean you should stereotype that group. In fact, if you do end up stereotyping your audience, you’re more likely to lose them than engage them.

Also think about the knowledge that your audience brings to your presentation. They might be extremely well-versed in or they might not have the faintest idea about your topic. The more you can tailor your speech to your audience, the more effective and persuasive your speech will be.

Tempering Ethnocentrism

You should know that in any situation, you bring with you your own unique world-view and set of biases. You should especially be aware of your unique world-view and biases in your speech because they may negatively impact people of different cultures, ages, genders, etc.

The same goes for the use of gestures or mannerisms. Some everyday gestures may actually be offensive to other cultures. For example, at any Disney theme park, all the workers, when giving directions to tourists and visitors, always point with two fingers instead of one. Pointing a single finger in some cultures is considered extremely rude.

Some idioms and expressions that may seem natural and make sense to you may actually be quite confusing to people of different cultures or languages. Try to take a step back and consider the ethnocentric view you may be bringing to your audience and consider ways to minimize or temper those unique perspectives so as not to alienate your audience.

Topic Research: Gathering Materials and Evidence

In order to fully substantiate any claims you make in your speech, you must fully research those claims and provide supporting evidence.

Learning Objectives

Discuss how to best research and gather supporting materials for a speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Make sure you find credible sources of information, whether they be from scholarly sources that have been peer-reviewed, or irrefutable facts.
  • There are many places you can go to research; while the internet might seem like the easiest place to find information, you always want to double check to make sure those sources are accurate and credible.
  • Don’t use research that might be outdated, particularly with regard to scientific or technological advances.
  • Make sure you acknowledge your sources. You may not directly reference them in your speech, but if questioned afterward, you’ll want to know from where you found your information.
  • Never copy information word for word and claim it as your own; this is plagiarism and erodes the ethical integrity of you, your speech, and your reputation.

Key Terms

  • plagiarism: The act of plagiarizing: the copying of another person’s ideas, text or other creative work, and presenting it as one’s own, especially without permission.

Research and Gather Your Materials

A picture of a man sitting at a desk and reviewing research material.

Research: Make sure you research and gather enough evidence and supporting materials in order to talk about the topic competently.

Now that you’ve figured out your topic and given some thought as to who will be your audience, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and begin the real work of preparing your speech. In this section, we’ll discuss how to best research and gather your materials and supporting evidence.

Finding Credible Sources

The first instinct for many people preparing a speech is to go out and find every piece of information they can, often via search engines online. While this is a great way to “presearch,” you’ll want to really pay attention to the sources from which you’re gathering your information. If you want to successfully substantiate any claim in your speech, you’ll need to make sure you back it up with information from credible sources.

Just What Makes a Source “Credible”?

Typically, hard, irrefutable facts make for a credible source. Fact: the Earth is anywhere from 36 to 63 million miles away from Mars, depending on orbital locations of either planet. But if you have a claim that could stray anywhere into the realm of opinion (such as, the existence of extraterrestrial life in the universe besides that on Earth), you’ll want to make sure you have credible sources to back up that claim.

Many times, you’ll want to turn to scholarly sources. Academic journals and publications (particularly if they have been peer-reviewed) make for excellent scholarly sources. Additionally, there’s no reason that you can’t approach an expert in the field that you are researching. In the latter instance, this is considered a primary source of information and can sometimes help point you in the right direction to find other credible sources of information.

When in doubt, ask your friendly librarian. They can often point you to online journal collections or academic search engines where you can find reliable, credible sources.

Keeping Your Research Organized

As you begin to assemble your research, it’s imperative to keep your notes centrally located and easily accessible. You might want to create a binder to keep all of your papers and notes together, or dedicate a multi-sectioned notebook to your research. You might take notes on notecards, organizing them by color or heading. If you take your notes online, you can use cloud computing to store your research remotely to access them anywhere on the go. Other software exists to keep your notes files and organized electronically on your computer.

Always keep records of where you got your information. You’ll need this in case someone ever decides to question you about your facts after your speech. Also, this shows people that, yes, you’ve done your homework. Additionally, you should never copy any information word for word and claim it as your own. Plagiarism will only damage your reputation and the credibility and ethics of your speech in addition to potentially causing you to fail a class, lose your job, or worse.

However you organize your notes, just make sure you have them organized and handy. You never know when you might run into a primary source!

Developing Your Thesis

All speeches must have a point or a main argument – a thesis.

Learning Objectives

Illustrate the best approach for developing a thesis for a speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The main argument of your speech is your thesis statement: what case are you trying to make?
  • If you are arguing for or against a certain idea, belief or topic, you must provide compelling evidence to support your position.
  • When crafting your thesis statement, consider potential arguments, questions, or concerns someone with an opposing viewpoint may have. This process helps you develop a more robust thesis.

Key Terms

  • thesis statement: A thesis statement summarizes a speech’s argument in one to three sentences.
  • rebut: To deny the truth of something, especially by presenting arguments that disprove it.

Developing Your Thesis

The speaker is standing at the lectern and the audience is seated nearby.

Thesis: A painting depicting a lecture in a knight academy in the 1620s.

In some circumstances, you will most likely be arguing some kind of point or message in your speech. The main argument of your speech – the main point you want your audience to understand – is the thesis of your speech.

The Thesis Statement

In any opinion piece, written or spoken, the main argument – the thesis statement – comes at the beginning. You want your audience to know right away the point you are trying to make. It is important to remember that your thesis statement only addresses one main issue; the ways in which you choose to support your thesis add complexity and depth to your speech.

Arriving at Your Thesis

When composing your thesis statement, consider and answer the following questions:

  • How do you feel about your topic?
  • How does your audience generally feel about your topic?
  • What do you want your audience to feel or believe about your topic?
  • What other opinions have been said/written about your topic?
  • Are you arguing for or against your topic?
  • What social issues factor into your topic?
  • What is your topic’s influence on the individual, a particular community or society as a whole?

As you begin to answer these questions, start thinking about ways you want to support your thesis with compelling, persuasive examples.

Playing Devil’s Advocate

No matter how you choose to argue your point, it is important to take a step back and play devil’s advocate; that is, take a look at your argument from that of the opposing viewpoint. By considering all sides of your argument, you will bolster your case by preparing for all possible objections and rebuttals to the claims you intend to make in your speech.

Supporting Your Ideas

Use a variety of ways to support the ideas and claims that you make with your thesis statement to give your speech depth and dynamics.

Learning Objectives

Explain how to use ideas and examples to back up claims in a speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Set the stage for how you plan to address your argument and make your case by laying out the exposition of your argument.
  • Appeal to your audience ‘s core beliefs, goals or common interests to influence your audience by persuasion.
  • If you are speaking to a sympathetic crowd, consider influencing your audience by suggestion or popular sentiment on your given topic.
  • Use personal narratives and anecdotes to make your case if appropriate to your audience, topic, and speech venue.
  • If your idea is complex, consider breaking it down into simpler parts to more thoroughly and easily describe your idea. Help your audience to visualize your points by articulately describing them.

Key Terms

  • exposition: The act of declaring or describing something through either speech or writing.
  • anecdote: An account or story which supports an argument, but which is not supported by scientific or statistical analysis.

Supporting Your Ideas

A picture of a man standing over a desk and working on material while another man looks on from the side.

Preparing Supporting Ideas and Materials: It’s important to select the right evidence and supporting materials to help you establish the main points in your speech.

Once you have solidified your position in your thesis statement, you want to back up your thesis with a variety of supporting ideas and examples. To do this, there are several ways you can support your claims while adding variety and interest to the overall story of your speech.

Set the Stage

Using exposition is a great way to get your audience all on the same playing field. When you use an expository approach, you’re carefully laying out all of the background information your audience needs to know in order to understand your point.

Appeal to Commonalities

As you notice commonalties between audience members, the audience and your topic, and you and your audience, appeal to those commonalities to not only establish rapport but also to more easily persuade them to your thesis and claims. Your audience is more likely to trust and believe you if they feel they share something in common with you and your topic.

Finding a Consensus

Your audience may already feel a certain way about your topic. Depending on what you’re trying to argue, you may want to go ahead and appeal to that consensus. Just be careful: you don’t want to bore your audience by “preaching to the choir. ”

Tell a Story

One of the best ways to back up your claims–besides cold, hard, facts and data–is to share a personal story or anecdote. This shows your audience that you really connect to your subject, making you more believable and personable. Using anecdotes are a perfect opportunity to lighten the mood and add some humor as appropriate to your speech.

Deconstruct Your Topic

You might have a particularly complex subject or thesis. In these instances, it’s helpful to break it down into its simplest parts. By breaking your information down into bite-sized chunks, your audience may have an easier time of following your train of thought or logic.

Organizing and Outlining the Speech

Arrange your speech – your thesis, additional points, and supporting evidence – in a way that will make sense to your audience.

Learning Objectives

Discuss best practices for organizing notes and research into one speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • To organize your thoughts, consider giving each point or supporting evidence its own note card. Begin to arrange them according to importance and your main points will begin to emerge.
  • Outlines typically begin with your thesis and end with any concluding thoughts.
  • Depending on your topic or thesis, arranging your points chronologically is an effective way to establish a timeline of your argument.
  • If giving an informational speech, you might describe your subject as parts of an object, outlining each part or section.
  • You can move from broad points to specific points, or vice versa, depending on the effect you are trying to achieve and the argument you are trying to make.

Key Terms

  • thesis: A concise summary of the argument or main points, usually one to three sentences long.
  • chronological: In order of time from the earliest to the latest

Organizing and Outlining Your Speech

Now that you have decided on your topic, analyzed your audience, arrived at your thesis, and determined how you will support your claims, it is time to organize your notes and research into one coherent speech.

You did keep all of your notes centrally collected and easily accessible, right? If you put all of your research notes and thoughts onto notecards, it is particularly helpful to lay them out in front of you and begin to organize your points and sub-points in ways that make the most logical sense.

A picture of an outline. Post-it notes are organized on a table by color and topic.

Organizing Your Ideas: It’s important to develop an outline and clearly explain your ideas.

What are some ways to establish logical order?

Establish a Timeline

Depending on your subject and the point you are attempting to make, it might make sense to order your research and points in chronological order. If you are giving a speech on the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, it makes sense to start with its rise, and end with its fall. Outlining your speech as a series of chronological events or points allows your audience to follow along a linear timeline for easy understanding of your subject matter.

Your Thesis as the Sum of Its Parts

Think of your thesis like a machine. Each claim is another cog, each example or supporting evidence another lever in that machine, all working together to arrive at the same persuasive conclusion. Sometimes it is helpful to break up your thesis into each of these smaller parts, to make the information more easily digestible for your audience.

The Broad and the Specific

Building on the idea of your thesis as machine, you may present your overall, broad idea, then break it down into smaller, logical steps to reach that big idea. Conversely, you may start with smaller ideas and expand into the bigger, broader idea. When constructing your arguments from smaller ideas, you are more likely to drive your point home with a broad, sweeping finish. On the other hand, you can dilute the complexity of a broad idea by breaking it down into smaller, logical pieces of information.

A Sample Outline

Here is a sample outline about issues of feminism in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

I. Introduction and Thesis: Brief description of issues that arise when reading “Hamlet”

II. Issues of feminism uncovered through reading “Hamlet”

a. What other scholars have discovered about feminism in “Hamlet”

b. Which of these discoveries was most evident

c. Ideas of feminism I uncovered on my own

III. How uncovering ideas of feminism in “Hamlet” has led me to better understand what Shakespeare thought of the role women played in society

IV. Conclusion

Wording the Speech

A good speech is not written in one sitting; write multiple drafts, then review and edit before settling on a final text.

Learning Objectives

Discuss tips and tricks for drafting a speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Use the ABC approach to begin your first draft. The Abstract explains your thesis. The Body features your main points and supporting evidence. The Conclusion contains your final thoughts and reiterates your point.
  • Make sure to have all of your notes and research close by and easily accessible so you can turn to your sources as often as you need to while your draft your speech.
  • Editing and revising are not the same thing. To edit, review your speech for changes. To revise, actually implement those changes. Editing and revising are cyclical in nature as you continue to hone your draft.
  • If on your first draft you find yourself going off on a tangent, allow yourself to follow it. You can always edit, revise and remove sections later that are wordy or off-topic.
  • Writer’s block can happen to even the best writers. Take a break for a few minutes and come back to your speech renewed and refreshed. But don’t stay away too long or you might lose your momentum.

Key Terms

  • eloquence: The quality of artistry and persuasiveness in speech or writing.
  • abstract: Difficult to understand; abstruse.
  • writer’s block: The inability to begin or continue work on a piece of writing; normally temporary.

Find the Right Wording for Your Speech

A picture of handwritten speech notes by President Ronald Reagan. It shows that he drafted his speech and crossed out certain parts.

Drafting Your Speech: Handwritten speech notes by President Ronald Reagan

The art of public speaking comes from the eloquence of the speaker. While researching your subject and outlining your speech may seem like the most time-consuming aspect of preparation, taking the time to write your speech can actually take the most time to complete.

Writing Your First Draft

When you begin writing your speech, don’t assume what you write now will be the final version of your speech. A draft is simply your first pass at what you plan to say. Using your outline as a guide, refer to your organized research notes (that you’ve centrally collected and have easily accessible for just such an occasion, right? ) to begin to flesh out your speech.

It is helpful to take an ABC approach to writing your speech. Introduce your subject and thesis in an Abstract, or introduction, section. This abstract gives a general summary about what you plan to speak. Then write your Body, where you will make and substantiate claims to support and argue your thesis. Finally, write your Conclusion, tying it all together in one memorable finish.

You may find that you start to veer off-topic as you begin to write your speech. You will have time to go back and prune later; for now, the focus is to keep writing.

Refine, Refine, Refine: Editing and Revising

Now that you have written the first draft, reread what you have written to refine your wording.

Editing

Read through your first draft. Look for typos such as spelling and grammatical errors. Also look for awkward phrasing or parts of speech. Read sections aloud: do they make sense? If so, reword those sections.

Consider the vocabulary you are using: Is it appropriate? Are you potentially using language that may go over your audience ‘s heads, or perhaps is too elementary? Consider your tone, style and verbiage. Also consider the structure of your argument: does your speech actually make sense?

It is helpful to give your first draft to another person to review and edit, as it helps to have a fresh set of eyes look at your material.

Revising

Once edits have been made, implement those suggestions and changes to your draft. When you begin revising, you may find that you are making more changes along the way and may write multiple drafts. The editing and revising process becomes a cycle of newer drafts. Eventually, the revisions will be done and you will have settled on your final draft.

Dealing with Writer’s Block

Have you ever sat down in front of your computer, a blank document open, the cursor just blinking at you…and no words come to your brain? Don’t panic! It is a harrowing moment for any writer, but don’t be alarmed: writer’s block is perfectly natural and there are ways to overcome it.

Some tackle writer’s block by forcing themselves to write anything, as long as they keep writing. You can set a timer and commit to keep writing without stopping until that timer ends. Hopefully, that will be enough of a boost to get your writer’s juices flowing.

If not, walk away from your speech for a little while. Sometimes it is good to clear your mind from a subject in which you are thoroughly engrossed in order to gain a fresh perspective.

When in doubt, two heads are better than one. Call up a friend, colleague, or classmate and share ideas with them. They just might have the inspiration and outside perspective you need to get your hands flying across your keyboard in no time.

Preparing to Present

Practice makes perfect!

Learning Objectives

Discuss the different methods for preparing for and presenting a speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Determine how you will present your speech: will you read it verbatim, memorize it, or read from an outline of notes?
  • Reading verbatim has both its positives and negatives. On the plus side, you’ll have your entire speech written out in front of you; however, these types of speeches tend to feel a bit stilted to audience members.
  • Memorizing your speech can seem like a weighty task, but it allows you to retain all of your key points and wording while still appearing natural and effortless to your audience. It frees you from having to read right off of a manuscript.
  • When speaking extemporaneously, you can have a rough outline of your notes. You might have this on a single sheet or perhaps across several notecards. In either case, these serve as reminders about your topic, your points and in what order they should be shared.
  • If you’re nervous about presenting in front of a group of people for the first time, work out your nerves by asking a small group of friends or colleagues to be your test audience. Your test audience can give you immediate feedback on what you did well and how you could improve.
  • Ever wonder what you look like while giving a speech? Practice in front of a mirror, or better yet: record yourself. You’ll be able to see if you have any unconscious gestures or habits that you can correct or prevent as you feel them happening.

Key Terms

  • verbatim: A word-for-word report of a speech.
  • extemporaneous: A type of speech delivery which involves preparation of speaker notes prior to delivery, associated with conversational style of delivery.

Prepare to Present

A picture of a man holding a piece of paper and practicing his speech.

Practicing Your Speech: Take the time you need to rehearse and prepare your speech before getting up in front of your audience.

You’ve written your speech: congrats! Now it’s time to work on just how you plan to present your speech and prepare it accordingly. First, decide how you’ll present your speech: will you read your newly minted speech verbatim from script? Or will you memorize it? Or will you simple read off an outline or notes?

Reading Your Speech Word for Word

For your first speech, it might be helpful to have it completely typed up and ready for you to read verbatim in front of a crowd. You may feel more confident having your exact wording in place assembled right there in front of you.

Reading verbatim from a script has its drawbacks; you may be limited in how much eye contact you can engage in with your audience. As such, your audience may more quickly disconnect from your words and you as speaker. Additionally, speeches read straight from a script or manuscript often feel stodgy and stilted, which is a sure way to bore your audience and lose their attention fast.

Memorizing Your Speech

You can memorize your speech in the same way that you might memorize lines or a monologue for a theatrical play. By freeing yourself from reading off a sheet or many sheets of paper, you lose some of the rigidity that comes with reading a speech off a script. There’s less for your hands to fumble with, allowing you to take a more open body position as you deliver your speech, making you more engaging with your audience.

However, one of the biggest disadvantages to memorizing a speech can be unexpected stage fright where you might clam up entirely, unable to remember your speech. It never hurts to have a copy of your speech on hand when you plan on memorizing your speech.

Speaking Extemporaneously from Notes

The middle ground between reading from script and memorizing your speech is to read from notes. By preparing an outline or a few note cards with keys points in the order you plan to present them, you have the freedom to have open body posture with a safety net of reference. Speaking from notes sometimes involves keeping your hands busy holding the notes and it does draw your eye contact periodically away from the audience. The tradeoff is worthwhile because it allows you to have an engaging stance combined with an outline of your speech.

Dealing with Nerves

It’s completely normal to be nervous about giving your first speech in front of a large group of people. Even world leaders get butterflies in their stomach before addressing the world stage. To help combat your fears, just remember: if you flub your speech it’s probably not going to kill you, so why stress?

You can also ease your fears by taking the time to practice frequently. Read your speech out loud so you begin to develop muscle memory around your phrases and sentences. You can even read your speech in front of trusted friends or colleagues. By practicing in front of a smaller group, you can take the edge off having to present in front of a larger group. Additionally, having your friends as the test audience will give them an opportunity to provide you with valuable feedback about what you’re doing well and where you need to improve.

If you’re not sure what you look like while speaking, practice in front of a mirror. Better yet, record yourself and play back the recording a few times to yourself. Watching yourself speak is another great way to help calm your nerves and break the tension while discovering subtle facial movements or body language that might actually hurt your speech.

Delivering the Speech

Details like how you dress, enunciate, and use body language can be just as important as what you say.

Learning Objectives

Give examples of tactics speakers can use to deliver a speech effectively

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Make sure you dress to impress. While some speeches may be delivered in a casual setting, you want to make sure you’re wearing clothing appropriate to the dress code of your event.
  • Be aware of your body language. A closed body position (arms crossed, shoulders hunched) and lack of eye contact will make it extremely difficult for your audience to engage with you.
  • Engage your audience by making eye contact with them. If making eye contact wigs you out, you can always look just above their heads to give the same effect.
  • Stand up straight, remember to breathe, and limit your “um”s, “uh”s, and “like”s. Use whole phrases like “should have” instead of “shoulda. ” Avoid slang or profanity.
  • Have a backup plan in case equipment fails for things such as visual aids, PowerPoint presentations, or teleprompters.

Key Terms

  • body language: Body language is a form of mental and physical ability of human non-verbal communication. It consists of body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements. Humans send and interpret such signals almost entirely subconsciously.

Delivering Your Speech

image

Delivering a Speech: A woman delivers a speech at a TEDx event.

The big day has arrived: it’s time to present your speech! Besides remaining calm and speaking clearly and at a loud enough volume, here are the most important things to consider as you present your speech.

Dress to Impress

The way you look as you give your speech is almost as important as the words coming out of your mouth. It’s imperative to know the dress code for the event at which you’re speaking. If you’re the best man at your best friend’s wedding, you will probably be wearing a tux. Unless of course it’s a beach wedding, when flip flops and shorts could be totally appropriate.

In a business setting, men should wear a button-down shirt and dress pants and shoes; depending on how formal the business setting, this may also include a suit jacket and tie. Women should wear a dress, dress pants or skirt with a button-down top, blazer, blouse or nice sweater. Shoes can be heels or flats and should be appropriate to your setting.

For men and women, it’s also helpful to consider how long your speech is and if you’re expected to stand for the duration of your speech when determining appropriate yet comfortable footwear.

Watch Your Body Language

In the same vein that how you look is almost as important as what you say, how you stand can be just as important as your words. Humans pick up subtle cues with regard to emotion through non-verbal communications in body language. When delivering your speech, you want to make sure you have a confident, open stance to convey your confidence. Standing hunched over or with your arms crossed will close off your body to your audience, thereby shutting them out.

Similarly, make eye contact with your audience. Sometimes this makes speakers nervous, but it’s an important technique to really connect with your audience. If the idea of making direct contact makes you uncomfortable, you can always scan your view around the room looking just above your audience’s heads; it achieves the same connective effect.

Finally, if you can move around, do. It builds visual interest for your audience and also helps you to work out jitters if you have them. You might be confined behind a podium or lectern, in which case your largest range of motion may be restricted to hand gestures and your gaze around the room. If you can walk out from behind a podium and across a stage, take the opportunity. Just don’t wander, watch where you step, and try not to make your audience motion sick by walking back and forth too much.

Articulate and Enunciate

Speak your words clearly. Don’t rush your sentences or let the ends of your sentences drop in volume. You’ve worked this hard to write and prepare your speech–you want to make sure your audience understands what you have to say.

Avoid saying “um”, “uh”, or “like” (when it doesn’t belong in a sentence). These are usually nervous habits that take time to break. If you feel an “um” coming on, simply pause for a brief moment before moving past it. Additionally, don’t be afraid of silence when you’re making a dramatic or compelling point. And sometimes, be prepared for your audience to interrupt you with clapping or laughing. You might need to stop a sentence to let the audience do its thing while you resume as it dies down.

Have a Backup Plan

If you have supplementary materials such as visual aids or a PowerPoint presentation, have a backup plan in place in case some piece of equipment doesn’t work. You may want to have printouts just in case a computer or projector doesn’t work.

Similarly, if you’ve memorized your speech or may be reading from a teleprompter, have a printed copy of your speech or an outline of your speech on hand just in case you get a case of stage fright or equipment fails.

One More Thing

Before you walk off that stage or sit back down in your seat, always thank your audience.