Public speaking is an art. Most of us will be called upon to make speeches at some time or other. But delivering speech to 20 or to 200 people is always difficult except for those who have developed the art of public speaking. Therefore, we need to acquire certain basic speaking skills which can be developed through practice.
Feeling some nervousness before giving a speech is natural and healthy. It shows you care about doing well. But, too much nervousness can be detrimental. Preparation helps you control your nervousness and make effective, memorable speeches. Preparing and making a speech is a difficult task for many. It becomes easier if you plan it step by step. The process of preparing and giving a speech always require the following steps:
i) Know the audience. Who are you speaking to? What are their interests, presuppositions and values? What do they share in common with others; how are they unique. Know the needs of your audience and match your contents to their needs.
ii) Selecting and limiting your topic. A speech topic is a particular portion or aspect of a subject. Often the speech topic is assigned; at other times you need to think up a topic by yourself. In either case, you will need to limit your topic to make it narrow and specific enough for you to deal with in the given time, and in a manner that suits your audience.
iii) Gathering information. Depending on your purpose and your topic, you may need to research and collect data, exact figures, latest developments, interesting little known facts, expert opinions, and any other relevant information which would humour, fascinate or surprise the audience. You may also draw on your own knowledge and experience, or you may wish to interview an expert on the subject or look it up in the library or internet. It is particularly important in a speech to give information that is clear and complete.
iv) Organizing your material and writing your speech. Organizing your speech is one of the most important skills you need to master. Organization is often the key to understanding. The audience is more likely to understand your message if it is well-organized that it if is not. Organizing a speech forces you to select, to prioritize, and to choose the best of the available information. Your speech should have three main parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Start your preparation with the body of your speech; the introduction and the conclusion are best drafted after the body is created. Introduction and conclusion should be appropriate, always with a punch line.
v) Practice and rehearse your speech at home or where you can be at ease and comfortable, in front of a mirror, your family, friends or colleagues. Use a tape-recorder and listen to yourself. Videotape your presentation and analyze it. Know what your strong and weak points are. Emphasize your strong points during your presentation.
2. DELIVERING YOUR SPEECH
When you finally stand before your audience, your main concern will be what you have to say. However, you shouldn’t forget that your whole body is going to speak, not just your mouth. Think about your voice, facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, and posture. All of these determine the impact of your speech. The following techniques will help you:
i) Get attention. Begin with something to get the attention of the audience. A good beginning is an attention getter such as a startling question, a challenging statement, a quotation, or a story. Listeners pay close attention when a person begins with, “Two weeks ago as I was driving to work a car pulled out in front of me….” You could begin with a current event: “You might have read in the paper this morning about the flood that….” A question is another way to make people listen. “How many of you feel our society spends too much on medical care?” might be a way to begin a presentation about curbing costs. Whatever technique you use, when you grab the attention of the audience you are on your way to a successful speech.
ii) Be energetic. Be energetic in delivery. Speak with variety in your voice. Slow down for a dramatic point and speed up to show excitement. Pause occasionally for effect. Don’t just stand behind the lectern, but move a step away to make a point. When you are encouraging your audience, take a step toward them. Gesture to show how big or wide or tall or small an object is that you are describing. Demonstrate how something works or looks or moves as you tell about it. Show facial expression as you speak. Smile when talking about something pleasant and let your face show other emotions as you tell about an event or activity. Whatever your movements, they should have purpose.
iii) Structure your speech. Don’t have more than two or three main points, and preview in the beginning what those points will be. With each point, have two or three pieces of support, such as examples, definitions, testimony, or statistics. Visual aids are important when you want your audience to understand a process or concept or understand a financial goal. Line graphs are best for trends. Bar graphs are best for comparisons and pie graphs are best for showing distribution of percentages.
iv) Tie your points together with transitions. These could be signposts such as “First,” “Second,” or “Finally.” Use an internal summary by simply including the point you just made and telling what you plan to talk about next. “Now that we have talked about structure, let’s move on to the use of stories,” would be an example. When you have an introduction, two or three main points with support for each, appropriate transitions, and a conclusion, you will have your speech organized in a way that the audience can follow you easily.
v) Your voice, body language and gestures. How you appear and act while presenting your speech carries important information. If you appear relaxed and confident, then the audience is going to be more at ease than if you appear nervous. Your voice should express your enthusiasm about your topic and should emphasize the key points of your speech. Your facial expression can show determination, surprise, or delight. When you describe a serious problem, let your face reflect your concern. Use gestures as you would in conversation. They will add depth and emphasis to your words. Let your movements be a natural expression of what you are saying. Your posture should be natural. Stand straight but not stiff. Relax, but do not slouch or lean on a desk or lectern, feel free to move about a little while you talk, if it helps you to relax.
vi) Make eye contact. Look at the audience as you speak. If it is a small audience, you can look at each person in a short period of time. If it is a large audience, look at the audience in small “clumps” and move from one clump to another. One way to insure good eye contact is to look at your audience before you start to speak. We connect with each other through our eyes. Effective speakers look at a few people, one at a time. This creates a relationship, and it’s less scary giving your message to each person than to a large crowd.
vii) Include a “wow” factor in your speech. Something in your speech should make your audience think, “Wow!” It could be a story, a dramatic point, an unusual statistic, or an effective visual that helps the audience understand immediately. With a “wow” factor, you then have something to look forward to in the speech that you know will have an impact on your audience. You’ll become a more enthusiastic speaker because the “wow” factor will get you as well as your audience pumped for the speech.
viii) Touch of humour. Consider using a touch of humour in your speech. Don’t panic at this suggestion; you are not becoming a comedian but rather lightening up a serious speech so that people will be more accepting and interested in your ideas. Humour will help you to be perceived as an amiable person, and it is hard for people to disagree or be bored if they are smiling at you. Until you have lots of experience, keep your humour short. Even seasoned speakers know that funny stories soon become unfunny if they go on too long. Perhaps inject a one-liner or a quotation.
ix) Leave the audience with something to think about. People remember best what you say last. You might summarize your main points, or you might complete the statement, “What I want you to do as a result of this speech/presentation is….” But beyond that, make your last words a thought to ponder. For example, I might end a speech on becoming a better speaker with “As Cicero said centuries ago, ‘The skill to do comes with the doing.’”
IN CONCLUSION. One never becomes a “perfect” speaker; developing public speaking skills is a life-long experience. But the points discussed here will get you started in becoming the speaker you want to be and the speaker your audience wants to hear.
By Dr. John Parankimalil, Ph.D