Nothing strikes fear into the heart of someone more than telling them they need to give a speech. Whether it’s a speech for work, a speech to promote their business or a speech where they’re volunteering their expertise, most people panic when they learn they’ll be facing an audience.
It’s no surprise that that this scares people — so much could go wrong. They could embarrass themselves, make a mistake, say the wrong thing, lose their train of thought or commit countless other blunders that they fear could result in not getting the sale, not getting the promotion or other failure.
The good news is that it’s usually not this bad — and public speaking really isn’t that complicated. It’s simply a conversation with audience and once you’ve practiced doing it a few times, you’ll find that it’s not as scary as you thought. And the truth is that despite what a number of so-called speaking gurus tell you, public speaking simply is not that complicated.
There are three basic things you need to do to give a great speech: write a good speech, practice speaking to groups and practice your speech. Let’s look at each of these things in more detail.
Write a good speech:
Speech writing is an art form that can take years to master, but unless you’re giving a speech that’s going to be televised to world and people will be analyzing each word and phrase so they can spin it, it’s not that difficult. The key is to have a speech that’s well organized and flows nicely. Start with the theme of your speech — the general message you’re trying to communicate. Then find three to five supporting points and three pieces of evidence to support each point. Try to get the points to lead into each other — what’s known as a transition — so it flows well.
Then create your introduction — where you introduce your theme to the audience and list out your main points. It’s great to open your speech with an attention getting device such as a rhetorical question or unusual fact, but don’t sweat it if you feel your opening could be more powerful — the introduction is merely the appetizer.
Finally, create your conclusion where you close up your speech and recap your main points. If possible, try to close with a call to action where you invite the audience to think, do or act on something.
Practice speaking to groups:
This is important because the only way you’ll become a better speaker is to get up there and speak. All the books, articles and coaching in the world, no matter how good the material is, will not help you unless you put it to use. Getting up in front of groups can feel a bit odd at first and takes some getting used to, and the only way to do so is to get up there and experience it. Every audience is different so the more you expose yourself to speaking, the more confidence you build in your speaking abilities.
If you need to find an audience to speak to, start with joining a Toastmasters club. You’ll get the added bonus of learning from others and getting feedback. Other options include service clubs such as Rotary that are always looking for guest speakers.
Practice your speech:
I cannot stress this enough. You need to practice your entire presentation at least three times – unless it’s over 90 minutes, then you should practice the whole thing all the way through once and work on the parts that are most tricky. If you’re using PowerPoint or any other technology, practice with it. Practicing your talk helps you build confidence, commit it to memory and work out any issues. Reading it is not enough, you actually need to speak it out loud — preferably while standing up so you can you work out your gestures and movement.
While things like vocal variety, body language and eye contact can definitely enhance a speech, there’s been too much emphasis on these aspects by a number of speaking coaches so that their client can see a difference in their talks. The problem here is that many of these people overuse these devices, which is why they themselves are bad speakers, and while they think it makes them look like a polished speaker, it actually distracts the audience from the meat of the talk — the content. Public speaking is more like basketball than it is like figure skating – a good speech is measured by results, not on style.