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12 Things You Can Do To Deliver An Award-Winning Speech

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12 Things You Can Do To Deliver An Award-Winning Speech

You could be called on to deliver a speech for a number of reasons: a wedding, a work function, a pitch for your startup, but whatever the occasion, you want that speech to blow the audience away. Based on my experience teaching public speaking at Carnegie Mellon University, here are 12 things you can do to give an award-winning speech.

1. Tell a Story

Unless you’re getting a masters in statistics, you probably don’t get all hot and bothered when someone starts quoting numbers to you. When we’re putting speeches together, we naturally think to include as many facts and details as possible, but most of the time, the audience doesn’t care that much about the specifics.

If you want to be memorable and keep your audience’s attention, you need to tell a story. That means having a quick introduction, including some rising action and suspense to a climax, and diminishing action to a resolution. You want to take them on a journey with you as you’re speaking to be truly captivating.

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2. Suit Up

Okay, it doesn’t have to be a suit. But you need to look good. People will naturally take you more seriously and believe you more if you’re well dress and present yourself as being very put together, so it’s important to consider how you appear to the audience. As much as 70% of communication is nonverbal, so as much as you want your words to be spot on, you need to look the part as well.

3. Know Your Audience

You wouldn’t say the same things to a group of entrepreneurial college students and to a group of 50–70 year old veteran lawyers. It’s necessary to know who you’ll be speaking to and what their interests are. You want your story to appeal to what they care about; don’t just assume they’ll just be interested and pay attention to you because you’re speaking. You have to empathize and connect with them.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

Very few people can wing a speech and do it well. Just ask Michael Bay. If you want to really blow your audience away, you need to make sure you have your speech down cold. This means not only practicing it a few times, but practicing it in a few different locations as well (to decrease the influence of locational cues) and ideally having some distractions in the environment. Also, be sure you can get through it without slides (if you’re using any) just in case something goes terribly wrong.

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5. Test Your Setup

Tech can, and will, fail on you. You never know when you’ll get to a presentation and the projector won’t work with your computer, or you’ll have sent the wrong format presentation, or any number of other errors. The only way to avoid this is to show up early and make sure that everything you’ll be depending on works.

That covers some of the main things you should think about before the speech; now here’s what to be sure of during it.

6. … Pause

Pausing does three things for your speech. First, it adds dramatic effect. A pause leaves people hanging as they wait for what you’re going to say next. Second, it makes you sound more intelligent and thoughtful. And third, it helps you avoid using filler words like “uh” and “um,” which we most frequently use while we think of what to say next. A pause fills the same function.

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7. Articulate

When we have day-to-day conversations, we generally speak in a faster more relaxed way. We slur some of our words, use shortcuts, and keep it casual. This doesn’t work in giving a speech though—if you want to be heard and understood, you need to speak clearly and articulate your words more than you would normally. This means speaking a bit slower, making sure you don’t trail off at the ends of sentences, and watching the audience to see if anyone looks like they can’t understand you.

8. Keep Eye Contact

This is the best way to connect with each individual person in the audience. It doesn’t have to be for longer than a couple seconds, but if you make an effort to make eye contact with as many people as possible, it will help them feel much more engaged with you as a speaker. If you never make eye contact with them, they’ll be much less involved in the speech, so definitely don’t look at the back wall or just look at their foreheads. It has to be real eye contact.

9. Stay Facing Forwards

Just because everyone else is looking at your PowerPoint doesn’t mean that you have to as well. The minute you turn around and start talking toward your slides, you tell the audience to stop looking at you and just read off of the screen for themselves. It also tells them you didn’t prepare for the speech, so avoid looking at your slides as much as possible.

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10. Use Your Hands

Many people don’t know what to do with their hands while speaking, because we normally don’t need to think about it in day-to-day conversation. This results in ridiculous hand waving, wringing, hiding them in your pockets, and all sorts of other bad stuff. You never want to do anything unintentional with your hands—you want them to do intentional gestures that back up what you’re saying. Practice making effective gestures until you have a repertoire you can use to enhance your speech.

11. Project

Obviously your speech won’t be memorable if no one can hear you. Getting projection right is largely a result of practice, but you can also gauge the audience to figure out how you’re doing. If the people in the back are leaning forward they are probably having a hard time hearing you, and if the people in the front look terrified you’re probably yelling at them. Adjust accordingly.

12. Show Confidence

Finally, your audience will base a lot of their beliefs about the strength of your speech on their impressions of your strength as a person. If you appear confident and sure of yourself, they’ll believe what you’re saying and believe it’s a good speech. If you’re slouched, covering your chest, shuffling back and forth, and not making eye contact, they will pick up on it and you’ll lose their interest. Be sure to project confidence in not only your speaking, but your body language.

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If you can incorporate these 12 things into your preparation and speeches, I’m confident that you can reliably give an award-winning speech.

More by this author

Nat Eliason

Nat is the founder of the marketing agency Growth Machine. He shares lifetyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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