If you're like most people, then speaking in public gives you the heebie-jeebies. Well, we're going to show you how to conquer that fear, organize your speech, and deliver it with style. But what else would you expect from the Standard Deviants?
First, we'll deal with the number one public speaking issue: fear. Or, in official smart-guy terms, communication apprehension. Then we'll turn our attention to organizing your ideas, and show you three organizational models: chronological, topical, and cause/effect. Last, we'll go over all the crucial aspects of delivering a speech effectively, with the emphasis on style, and the physical and vocal aspects of delivery.
Whether you're delivering a speech to your classmates, a toast at your friend's wedding, or a presentation at work, you'll want to carefully prepare before you deliver a speech.
Now, we know what you're thinking: "How can I prepare to give a speech when I'm paralyzed by mind-numbing fear and I can't get out of bed?"
This probably sounds familiar to you. In fact, you may even be in bed right now, trapped in a prison of paralyzing fear and tangled sheets. Well, you don't have to be trapped. You can conquer your fear of giving a speech. In other words, you can conquer your fear of communication apprehension.
commonly known as stage fright. Often described as butterflies in the stomach. You know what we're talking about
You get a letter in the mail. You're happy. Everyone likes mail. But then you open up that letter. Why it's from the International Penguin Federation (IPF). They want you to give a speech to your local city council to ask them to make the penguin the official bird of your town.
Why shouldn't you make a speech? You're president of your local IPF chapter. You've always been vocal on the matter, telling friends how badly your town needs an official aquatic flightless bird. And you live in Penguin Town. This is your chance to make a difference.
This is your chance to shine! But then it hits you. That slight tickle of fear at the base of your spine. The cold trickle of sweat that rolls down your cheek. That energetic tap dancer who suddenly appears in your stomach to dance the first two acts of Showboat. It's communication apprehension!
Other symptoms begin to creep up. You can't sleep, you can't eat, and you begin to come up with excuses for why you can't possibly deliver that speech. ("My voice is feeling a little sore. I think I'm getting the plague. Better not risk it
Well, don't let communication apprehension stop you from speaking. It may seem like you're all alone or that this fear is ridiculous, but the truth is, communication apprehension is one of the most common fears in the world.
The most important thing you need to remember is that communication apprehension is a fear you can easily get a handle on. A lot of people believe that communication apprehension is a learned response, meaning that peoples' fear of public speaking is grounded in a bad public speaking experience.
By that token, if people begin to have positive public speaking experiences, their fear should decrease.
On a long-term basis, the best remedy for communication apprehension is practice. Learning how to organize ideas, analyze an audience, and present a speech will help you prepare yourself and decrease your anxiety.
We know what you're thinking: "How does this help me in the short run?" What can you do if you feel like you're about to implode right before a speech?
Well, the best way to combat the fear of public speaking is to learn how to relax yourself. Here's four easy steps that'll help you do just that!
Four Steps to Relax Yourself
Okay, you're nervous. What do you do? What do you do?! Well, we're going to go through four steps that will help you relax.
Step 1: Admit to yourself that you're nervous. Acknowledge your fears, but also realize that you can overcome them. Just remind yourself that you have something valuable to say and that the audience isn't likely to be hostile towards you.
Step 2: Think about what you're going to say and what effect you'll have on your audience. The mental preparation will calm you down and take your mind off the fear.
Step 3: Act confident. Sure you're nervous, but the audience doesn't have to know that. If you project confidence, the audience will react positively and this will increase your confidence even more. And finally...
Step 4: Start strong and end strong. A strong introduction will propel you through the rest of your speech and wipe out any fear you begin with. Ending strong will also counteract a shaky beginning due to nervousness.
It might help you out to keep in mind that speaker apprehension isn't a sickness that needs to be cured. You're not going to erase this fear from your life. Chances are you'll always be a little bit afraid before you get up in front of a large crowd. We all are. The key is to learn to deal with your fear and control it so that it doesn't control you.
Remember, people are sympathetic. They have a lot of the same fears and concerns as you do, and they know what you're doing is hard. They're willing to cut you some slack because they're relieved it's you up there and not them. So the absolute best thing you can do is take a deep breath, recognize your fear for what it is, and write the best possible speech you can. Dag nab it.
Once you get your fear under control, the next step in the speech-building process is to gather up your ideas and put them in some kind of order. Or in other words, organizing your ideas.
Organizing Your Ideas
Most speeches contain between two and five main ideas. It usually works out that you can come up with a lot more main ideas than you can fit within your time constraints. That's why you have to be selective. You have to pick out only those main ideas that are essential to your speech.
How do you order your ideas? Well, there's no single one right way or wrong way. Just know that your strongest idea will be the one that'll have the greatest effect on the audience. So, your strongest idea should be either at the beginning or at the end of the body of your speech. Your weaker ideas should be buried in the middle of the speech, not at either end. With that in mind, here are some common and helpful ways speakers choose to organize the main ideas in their speeches.
Chronological organization uses the passage of time to present ideas. That's a fancy way for saying, "you tackle things in the order they happen."
Say you're going to give an informative speech whose specific purpose is to explain how to build a tree house. You'd organize your main ideas in the order that you'd deal with them when actually building a tree house. That's chronological organization. So your main ideas could be arranged like this:
A: Gathering building materials.
B: Building the tree house.
C: Furnishing the tree house.
Using this method, you would take your audience through the process of building a tree house from start to finish.
Topical organization: what is it and why do you care? Well, people who organize their main ideas topically divide their ideas into
topics. We're not being sarcastic. That's what topical organization is.
So, just for kicks, say you're giving an informative speech whose specific purpose is to describe the many ways you can have fun at a town carnival. For this speech you could organize your speech topically. Like this:
A: Enjoying the rides.
B: Enjoying the professional freak shows.
C: Enjoying the starchy, fried concessions.
These examples don't fall in a particular order, but they are all related to the topic.
From Memphis, Tennessee, to Ellsworth, Maine, from El Paso in Texas, to El Niño in the middle of the ocean, people love cause/effect organization the world over. The cause/effect format identifies the causes of a situation and then determines its effects. It can also be used in reverse by stating the effects of a problem and then revealing the problem's causes.
So, let's say your speech deals with the growing crime rate in the city. In a cause/effect format, you might organize your ideas like this:
Cause #1: There aren't enough police officers to fight crime.
Cause #2: The legal system takes it easy on hardened criminals.
Effect: There is more crime.
In the cause/effect format, the causes naturally lead to the effects.
Delivering the Speech
So those are a few ways you can organize the main ideas in your speech. Now, it's time to get down to business and put our speech on its feet. It's time to present the speech.
After all the preparation, research, and writing, this is your chance to walk down the aisle, step up on stage, and rope in your audience. Can you do it?
Of course you can. But in order to present your speech to the best of your abilities, you have to learn about style and delivery. Let's tackle style first.
A long time ago, when America was young, speakers weren't as style-conscious as they are today. They didn't have to be. Listeners would willingly sit through long debates and sermons. But in today's mass-media dominated world, style is a big influence.
Style is a pattern of choices that distinguishes one speech from another. How you use language is what determines the style of your speech. One of the biggest differences between speaking and writing is that you can't go back and revise a speech, and listeners can't go back and hear it again. Because of this, there's a greater chance that there'll be more verbal clutter in an unprepared, unpracticed speech than in a paper. So, here are a few pointers that might help enhance the style of your speech.
Clarity of speech is important. Clarity is the practice of using concrete words and images to make your message clearer to your audience. And what makes for a clear speech? Here are a few things to shoot for.
First off, it's a good idea to limit your use of technical terms and jargon. Keep the postmodern neo-linguistic psychobabble out of your speech. Technical terms and jargon will only clutter up your message if your audience is unfamiliar with them. Remember, your audience hasn't prepared as extensively as you have for this speech, so don't make it difficult for them. But you don't want to "dumb down" the message either. Just don't make it too wordy.
It's also a good idea to speak in the active voice. The active voice is a grammar term that means the subject of the sentence performs the action. The active voice puts the focus on who does what. On the other hand, the passive voice means the subject is acted upon. It concentrates on what was done, and it is a lot weaker than the active voice. Here's an example:
Active voice: "Captain Handsome saved the baby!"
Passive Voice: "The baby was saved by Captain Handsome!"
Do you see the difference? The active voice makes for a stronger speech. It focuses on the subject doing the action, not the object having the action done to it.
Rhythm is the sense of movement or pacing within a speech. A good way to create a sense of rhythm is through repetition. That doesn't mean you should be redundant when you speak, saying the same things over and over and over again. That's a pretty important point, so let's repeat it. Rhythm is the sense of movement or pacing
Just kidding. While repetition can be overdone, it's a good idea to repeat your purpose as you go through the body of your speech. Repetition helps emphasize key points, enhances the audience's ability to remember, and helps a listener understand the overall structure of your speech.
Another way to create rhythm is through parallel wording. Parallel wording is when the speaker uses a word pattern that's easy for the audience to anticipate. Parallel wording is easy to recognize and creates a rhythm that moves the speech forward. When Abraham Lincoln said, "We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow
this ground," he used parallel structure.
Another fantastic rhythmic device is antithesis. Antithesis is the pairing of opposites within a speech, usually to suggest a choice between the two of them. So when John F. Kennedy said, "Ask not, what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," he used antithesis. It flows off the tongue, moves the speech forward and makes a point.
Imagery is an excellent way to make your speech vivid. A vivid speech is one that's lively, sharp, and intense. You see, the more you tap into your audience's five senses, the more successful your speech will be. Similes and metaphors do that. So does a device called onomatopoeia.
Now, we know onomatopoeia sounds like an exotic and cruel name to give your child. But onomatopoeia is actually the term for any word that actually makes sounds like its meaning. Words like "moo," "woof," "bubble," and "buzz." Used correctly, onomatopoeia can enhance your speech. Here's an example:
"The buzz of the crowd. The crack of the whip. The roar of the lions. These are the sounds of the circus."
And that's style, baby! Be conscious of it and your speech will cruise along like a space shuttle in orbit. Neglect it, and your speech will sink like a child actor's career after puberty. Now, let's get out of the trenches and move on to glory.
At last. Time for the moment of truth: delivery.
When it comes to giving a speech, delivery is everything. A poorly delivered speech can make all of your research and preparation be for nothing. So, listen up and find out how you can make your delivery flawless.
If you haven't already guessed, delivery is the presentation of a speech. Delivery involves use of the voice and the body to create a desired effect...a great speech! Good delivery has three general characteristics:
One: delivery should not call attention to itself. It should seem natural and uncontrived.
Two: good delivery should help the audience listen, understand, remember, and act on the message of a speech.
Three: effective delivery should create a sense of empathy in the audience, a sense that the speaker feels what the listeners feel and knows what they think.
The million dollar question: how can you make these things happen during the delivery of your speech? The million dollar answer? Well, success in delivery lies in two main areas, physical aspects and vocal aspects. We'll plunge into physical aspects first.
Your physical movement influences an audience's first impression of you. It also affects the audience's willingness to take you seriously.
Changes in physical movement can even help mark transitions in a speech and keep an audience focused on the main message.
The gist of all this? Physicality is important while delivering a speech. With that in mind, let's look at a few aspects of appearance and body movement and find how they can work for you.
What you wear really depends on the event at which you delivering the speech. Some settings are formal, some more casual. So it's really important to know as much as possible about your setting before the speech. You don't want to give a toast at a wedding wearing snow pants and a tank top.
One rule of thumb: speakers usually dress slightly more formally than the audience members. Speakers have to look somewhat professional, or at least well-groomed, in order to enhance their credibility. A speaker who constantly pushes her hair out of her face, adjusts her Red Sox hat, or wears clunky jewelry distracts the audience from the main purpose of the speech.
Basically, put a lot of thought into how you dress. The last thing you need is your pants having an effect on the impact of your speech.
Posture is another major physical aspect of public speaking. How you carry yourself affects the audience's opinion of you.
When you speak, make sure you stand up straight, but not rigid. It's never a good idea to shift your weight from one foot to the other, and try not to cross and uncross your legs. Also, make an effort not to lean forward onto the desk or podium. Just take time to make yourself comfortable before a speech. You can make yourself comfortable by breathing naturally and standing with your feet roughly shoulder-length apart.
Your posture should say, "Dog gone-it, I'm stable" and "By Job, I'm assured." The trick of it is, you should be relaxed without looking sloppy. If you can hack it, your speech will improve that much more.
A lot of the time, speakers trap themselves behind a podium. They cling to it and use it as a crutch. This is limiting.
If you're speaking from behind a podium, it's a good idea to step away occasionally. You don't want the podium to be a barricade between you and the audience. Movement in the direction of the audience shows you trust them. Movement is also a good way to make clear transitions within a speech. If you're moving on to discuss a different point, movement of your body can let the audience know that.
Gestures are equally important in the physical presentation of your speech. Gestures are the movements of your hands and arms during your speech and they're used to emphasize your ideas.
Incorporating gestures into a speech is sometimes a problem for speakers. Speakers are usually pretty conscious of their hands. A lot of the time they have no idea what to do with them. Fidgeting, clenching your fists, and any other unintentional hand motions will do nothing but distract the audience from your speech.
Well-timed, well-conceived hand gestures, on the other hand, can really enhance a speech.
Facial expressions can either enforce a message or undermine it. If you're talking about something sad, you want to look sad. If you're talking about something frustrating, you want to look angry. And if you're talking about how great celery is, you're going to want to convey a look that says, "Hey, I enjoy celery!"
In any case, you want to make sure that your facial expressions are appropriate to the subject matter of your speech. Somebody who smiles all the way through a serious speech will lose her credibility real quick.
One really important point to remember about facial expression is that eye contact is extremely essential.
In mainstream American culture, somebody who's unable to look a person in the eye is perceived as having something to hide. These people usually earn the nicknames "shifty," "weasel," and "eight-fingered Louie."
Also, speakers who don't look at the audience can't see how the audience is reacting. The audience's facial expressions can give clues about what interests them in a speech and what doesn't. This feedback can help you adjust the speech to their needs.
But if you try to make eye contact with everyone in the room, you'll look like a jack rabbit with a nervous tic. Your best bet is to mentally divide the room into three or four parts and shift your focus between these areas. This way, every listener will feel like you're directly talking to him or her.
The easiest way to make a speech fun and memorable for everybody involved is to make changes in the use of your voice. That's called vocal variation and it's also one of the ways the audience will judge your credibility. That's why, right here and now, we're going to discuss some of the most important dimensions of voice. Stuff like volume, pitch, rate, and pausing. Let's get it on!
Volume refers to the loudness of your voice. Most of the time the volume of your speech will depend on the size and shape of the setting it's delivered in. If you're in a large, open barn, you'd better be loud. If you're in a tiny café, your voice should be softer. In any event, being too loud or too soft can be a problem.
Speak too soft and the audience will strain to hear you. Speak too loud and the audience will feel uncomfortable. So, make sure you hit the right balance.
In addition to controlling the volume for the whole speech, changing the volume at certain points in the speech can help you emphasize important ideas. Raising your voice stresses a really dramatic or important point, and lowering your voice causes the audience to really concentrate on what's being said.
Pitch is the placement of voice on the musical scale ranging from high to low. For example, a soprano has a higher pitch than an alto.
Like volume, pitch can be raised and lowered for emphasis. Still, you have to bear in mind that an extremely high or low pitch will distract the audience.
Sometimes during a speech, your voice may waver and your pitch may rise. This is due to the tensing of vocal cords as a result of stress. To prevent this, try to relax as much as possible by controlling your breathing. Give yourself enough air to finish each sentence. Yawning and swallowing can also help you relax your vocal cords before taking the platform.
Another way to make your pitch more pleasing sounding is to loosen up the muscles in your shoulders. Also, instead of projecting your voice from your throat, use your diaphragm. That's the muscle that forms a wall between the lungs and your abdomen. This helps your pitch because the diaphragm controls the stream of air over your vocal folds, which produce your voice.
One pitch-related problem is a speaker who delivers his speech in monotone. Listening to a speech given at the same pitch without variation is like watching a slide show on paint.
When you speak, you need to vary your pitch. Otherwise, your audience is going to drown you in a river of snoring. Be aware of the quality of your voice and you'll be better able to adjust your overall vocal delivery.
Rate is the speed at which a person speaks. Often in this crazy world of ours, people either speak a mile a minute or talk like a slug trying to make it over a puddle of glue. Where's the even keel? Where's the happy medium? Well, when it comes to your rate of speech, the happy medium is what you need to strive for.
The average rate of speech is about 125-150 words per minute, but rate, like pitch, can really skyrocket if you get nervous. This isn't good for a bunch of reasons. First, racing through your speech makes it difficult for the audience to follow your ideas. If you're flying through your speech like a dog after a letter carrier, the audience doesn't have time to process and react to what they hear. Second, if you're rushing yourself, you leave the audience with the feeling that you want to leave the stage as soon as possible.
If you need to slow down your rate of speech, controlled breathing will help you relax and put on the brakes. But don't overcompensate and go too slow. If you go at a snail's pace, you'll give the audience a chance to write shopping lists in their heads or possibly remember that they left the stove on. So keep that rate even...unless you have something you want to emphasize.
A lot of the time, varying your rate can be critical. Slow down your rate if you want to communicate seriousness, calmness, or sadness.
Let's say this is a line in your speech: "And in conclusion, I have only one thing to say: it's time we take a stand."
A good place to slow down your rate is after the colon. "And in conclusion, I have only one thing to say: [slow down rate] it's time we take a stand."
Speeding up your rate can be effective as well. A faster rate can help you convey suspense or anger:
[moderate speed] "Lumberjacks cut down trees every day. Corporations bulldoze forests. [increase rate] And who's going to stop them?"
So, don't be afraid to vary your rate. Changing your rate as you go can really affect the meaning of your speech.
Enunciation is the practice of pronouncing words precisely (try enunciating that three times fast).
Some speakers have a tendency to slur words. This is inappropriate for public speaking. So you have to make sure you speak distinctly. Then again, just like everything else, this rule isn't gospel. Some people over-enunciate, speaking in an overly precise fashion.
This can come off as pompous and condescending. That's bad. Over-enunciating will only take away from your message. So try and speak distinctly, but naturally. Nuff said.
Pronunciation is the act of speaking a word in a way that is generally accepted and understood. There are a lot of ways to mispronounce a word. You can accent the wrong syllable (nu-clee-ar weapons), pronounce a vowel short when it should be long or vice-versa (nuck-lear weapons), or mess up the word all together (nucular weapons).
There's no doubt that mispronunciation can affect a speech negatively. It can prevent your audience from understanding the meaning of a word. Or it can call attention to itself and reduce your credibility. The audience will wonder if you really know your stuff when you can't pronounce the words in your own speech. So, if you're unsure about the pronunciation of a word, make sure you look it up or substitute another word in its place.
Well, that just about wraps up SDTV Public Speaking. We learned all the ins and outs of giving a great speech. Practice them well and, during your next speech, the audience just might fall down at your feet. "Jim," they'll yell, or "Laura," (or whatever your name is), "Your speech is so good! We would like to buy you lunch and give you money!"
Then they'll carry you on your shoulders while cheesy 80's music plays in the background. They may be carrying you to your next speech. Or they may be carrying you to the river.
Either way, you'll be happy because you finally mastered the art of public speaking.
Now that you've read All About Public Speaking, test your knowledge with our Sample Test.