You’ve been asked to give a speech. Or you want to seize the opportunity to persuade a large or small group. Are you confident or anxious? Do you know how to prepare for an effective presentation or are you at a loss about where to begin? Do you look forward to the opportunity or do you have stage fright? Are you worried about getting difficult questions? Will you be successful at convincing or inspiring your audience or will your speech be boring, long-winded or just ineffective? Are you an experienced speaker but feel that you could improve?
There are likely to be many points in your life at which you, your business or organization can tremendously benefit from effective presentations. And there are many types of presentations: formal and relatively casual or formal; brief remarks or a 30-minute speech; to small groups or large. It is a skill required for real success as any executive or community leader. And “skill” is a key word here. Effective and inspiring speech making is not an inborn talent; it is an acquired skill which anyone can learn. I believe that there are ten easy lessons you need to learn in order to be an effective speaker. Let’s talk about a few of them.
You cannot give an effective speech without knowing your audience. Who they are, their rough demographics, what brings them together, their opinions or viewpoints are all very important information. So, too, is information about the facility in which you’ll be speaking—attention to things like room set-up, sound and A/V details, even the time of day are important if you’re going to do your best job. You find out all these things by asking questions prior to beginning your speech preparation.
Preparation is then key. Unless you are a highly skilled and experienced speaker, you should never “wing it.” Despite the popular notion that his witticisms and debate comments were spontaneous, Winston Churchill--an extremely effective and inspiring speaker-- was reported by his valet to have come up with many of them while soaking in the bathtub! You probably don’t need to go to those lengths, but you still need to do some things to prepare.
When it comes to writing the actual presentation there are a number of guidelines to follow. If you know your audience in advance, you can tailor you remarks to them. You need to open with a “grabber,” something that engages the audience right at the outset and makes them want to listen to you. You need to clearly state your points. Remember the old adage about telling them what you’re going to say, telling it, then telling them what you said. You need persuasive facts or anecdotes as well as a clear conclusion which motivates your audience.
You need to remember are that you are more informed about or engaged with your topic than is your audience. If that weren’t the case, you wouldn’t have been asked to speak. Also, most audiences are interested in what you have to say and basically want to like you. If they’re not likely to go for your views, you need to know that in advance and take the necessary steps during your preparation. Appropriate follow-up can also be key to giving successful presentations.
If you keep all these things in mind, you can walk into a speech with enthusiasm and confidence, well prepared, and you’ll be effective and persuasive in convincing your audience.
Always remember that speech-making is not a talent, it’s a learned skill which requires preparation and practice to achieve. And it’s an important skill, both personally and professionally, for you to possess. No matter what your trepidations about giving a speech are right now, with informational lessons and practice you can become a convincing, inspiring and highly effective speaker. You may even come to enjoy public speaking!
Mary Waldmann's expertise as a speech writer and media expert spans over 30 years including among other roles Public Affairs Director for the US Department of Commerce during the Reagan Administration. She is the author of Six-Word Lessons on Winning with Today's Media and Six-Word Lessons for Compelling Speeches.