Why It Matters: Delivering Your Speech

Imagine this. A speech topic is perfectly chosen; the content is nicely organized and flawlessly researched; and a great deal of work was invested in preparing the “text” or “script” of the speech, but the speech is poorly delivered. Will the speech be effective? Will the audience stay alert and follow it? Will the audience properly interpret the speaker’s intended message? These questions contribute to the universal fear of public speaking. It is not the preparation of a speech that strikes terror in the hearts of so many, but the performance of a speech!

Since an audience does not usually read the text of a speech, but simply listens to it, all the preparation of the content by the speaker must be encoded into a complex combination of communication channels (words, sounds, visual elements, etc.) ready to be performed. The purpose of this chapter is to offer guidance to transfer the speech from the page to the stage.

A concert hall with a piano onstage

The Isaac Stern auditorium at Carnegie Hall.

There is an old Burlesque joke:

One man on a New York street comes up to another and asks,
“How can I get to Carnegie Hall?”
The second man answers, “PRACTICE.”

Practice is the key to excellent performance. Trite as it might sound (or obvious), the basic foundation for a good speech delivery involves the two P’s: Preparation and Practice. There is not an actor, athlete, or musician worth his/her salary who does not prepare and practice. Even when a performance is given with spontaneity, the “P’s” are crucial.

Stand-up comedy is everywhere; and those who are successful comedians do not make up their monologues on the spot. The phrasing, the pauses, the timing, is all rehearsed to assure the laughs will happen on cue. Good stand-up comedians are skilled in making it look as though they are making up their routine on the spot, which is part of the success of a good comedy performance. New speakers should think of themselves as performers facing an audience, actors ascending to stage, and athletes stepping up to bat.

This chapter will describe the basic methods of delivery and offer guidance in the aspects of presentation (such as voice, inflection, eye contact, and body and facial language).