Adapting Your Speech for the Occasion

Learning Objectives

Explain how to adapt speech skills to different occasions.

Man in a restaurant giving a speechSeth just got a new job at a large technology firm. He has worked in technology for years and left his old job for a leadership position at this prestigious company. As part of the onboarding process, a large welcome dinner is being held in Seth’s honor on the Friday of his first week. While he was not told he needed to give a speech, Seth knows that it is customary to give a little talk at such events. Therefore, he starts preparing this on his first day by using the 5Ws and 1H. (See below.)

The evening of the event, Seth feels ready. He has spent time all week listening, questioning, and observing his colleagues. Based on what he learned from his observations, he started the speech with a joke about company culture that was received very well. The rest of the speech was warm, uplifting, and a huge success. It was a great way to start this new job.

Adapting your speaking skills for different special occasions is all about starting with good questions so you can understand the audience and connect with them and their emotions. As you begin to brainstorm your message and how you want the listeners to receive it, start with these question prompts (known as the 5W’s + 1H)  borrowed from journalism and feel free to add to them anything you want to cover:

  • Who is this speech about, who else is speaking, and who invited me to speak?
    • This is your audience analysis. This will tell you something about who the people are at this occasion and why you’re there.
  • What is the reason for the occasion and what is the goal of my speech?
    • This tells you what kind of tone to take. You can adapt your speech to fit a fun occasion or a sad occasion.
  • When is the occasion and when will I be speaking during the program?
    • The first question lets you know how much time you have to prepare and practice. The second is even more crucial: your time slot during the program will determine how long you have to speak and, in part, the function of your speech. Are you opening or closing the program, or somewhere in the middle? Length is very important. The audience has little patience for a speech that runs past the allotted time. They also don’t want a one-sentence statement.
  • Where is the location of the function?
    • This allows you to prepare how to move and speak to the audience.
  • Why have they chosen me to speak and what can I bring to this speech that is uniquely mine?
    • There is a reason that you were asked to be there and speak. It is important to keep this in mind and use it to your advantage.
  • How do I want this speech to be remembered?
    • Sometimes the best way to find the right tone and content for a speech is to think about the effect you want to have on the audience. How would you want them to remember your speech?

These questions are a great place to start. It is good to dig right into the speech. Make notes and start researching the topic, the people, and organizations involved. As always, make sure to use credible sources and fact-check everything!