If you are afraid to give a speech, you’re not alone. Public speaking is one of the top 3 fears that people have in life, right up there with the fear of death and going to the dentist. My dad was a dentist, and I teach pubic speaking, so we always said that we like inflicting pain on people. But all joking aside, here are some ways you can deliver an inspiring and memorable speech even if you are nervous about it.
1. Get the audience’s attention.
Let’s face it: people have short attention spans. And if you don’t hook them right away, they will most likely tune out. You can ask them a question, tell a story, tell a joke, play a video, or arouse their curiosity. Whatever you do, don’t start out saying, “What I’m going to talk about is …” or “Hi my name is … ” B-o-r-i-n-g. As often as I tell my students not to do that, many of them do. And inevitably, they are not the good speeches. So don’t forget the attention-grabber right away.
2. Tell them why you’re qualified to talk about the topic.
Did you notice that in my opening paragraph I told you that I teach public speaking? That was my “credibility statement” in this article. Would you read this article if it was written by a chef who had never given a speech in his/her life? Probably not. And you shouldn’t take cooking advice from me either because I can barely cook Hamburger Helper. I think you see my point. You need to prove to the audience that you know your stuff.
3. Preview your speech.
People like to know what’s ahead. That’s why we watch movie trailers. Most of us wouldn’t want to go to a movie if we had absolutely no clue what it was about. Speeches are no different. This is another huge mistake most speakers make. My students almost always forget to preview their main points. And when that happens, they sound like they are just rambling. This is not good for your credibility (see #2).
4. Be lively with your delivery.
I’m sure you have all been in an audience when you have had a boring speaker. It could have been a teacher, professor, or just simply someone you wanted to hear speak. But nothing will put an audience to sleep faster than a monotone person who doesn’t move around or use any gestures. I remember I had a sociology class in college where they professor literally did put most of the students to sleep. And I also had a Greek Mythology class where the professor acted out the Greek myths and wore costumes as he taught. Guess which class was more popular?
5. Don’t read the speech!
Going hand-in-hand with #4, one of the ways a delivery can be boring is if someone reads their speech. Yes, there are times when it’s appropriate, like in a graduation speech. In fact, I gave a speech at my 8th grade graduation and I read it. However, that was before I taught pubic speaking, so I didn’t know any better. But ideally, you just want to have key words to remind you of what you should be talking about. Having them on a power point is a great way to accomplish this.
6. Plan some main points that you will cover so the speech has a structure.
I’m sure you’ve heard speeches where the person just seems to ramble. That is because they don’t have any main points. This is a big mistake my students make. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat there listening and thought to myself, “What’s their topic? What are they even saying?” You don’t want to do that. You need to make it very clear that you have prepared your material and have a “road map” for where you are going with your speech.
7. Have connections between your main points.
Transitions between the parts of the speech helps you with the structure. Preview your main points. Use sentences between them such as, “Now that we have discussed the problem, let’s move on to examine some possible solutions” so the audience doesn’t lose track of where you are going in your speech. And in the conclusion, saying something simple like “In conclusion .. ” or “To summarize what we talked about today … ” signals that you are ending your speech.
8. Tell stories.
Everyone loves stories. We live in a world of stories: we watch TV, we see movies, and we read novels. We even tell stories to our friends about what happened to us. Stories are everywhere. So using them in your speech will help people relate to the material and to you as a speaker. In my classes, I tell personal stories all the time, and it usually makes my students laugh. And who doesn’t like to laugh?
9. Review your main points in the conclusion.
People have bad memories, and repetition helps them remember information. As I always say in class, “Tell them what you are going to tell them (preview), then tell them (main points), then tell them what you told them (review).” While it might sound like like unnecessary repetition, it helps people retain your information much better.
10. Practice, practice, practice!!
I can always tell when someone is “winging it.” It’s obvious. Preparation and practice are vital to a good speech. I remember when I took my first speech class in college, I totally blanked out in the middle of it. While it may not have made a lasting impression on anyone else, it did on me. From that moment on, I understood the point of practicing. It adds to your confidence and gives you more credibility as a speaker.
11. Leave the audience wanting more.
The audience should want to know more information about your topic when you’re done. They should want to come up to you after the speech and ask you to do another speech. You don’t want to have them sitting there wondering if they should clap because you’re done, or if you’re going to keep going. Believe me, that happens to me in class all the time. Do don’t do that. Make sure you end the speech with a bang, not a whimper.
Giving a speech can be scary for a lot of people. However, if you follow these simple suggestions, you will do just fine!