Make sure you have stopped speaking before your audience has stopped listening.” – Dorothy Sarnoff
For most people, delivering a public speech is at least a reasonably big deal. Even if you are somebody who is used to doing such a thing, there are still feelings of anticipation attached.
Public speaking is something that many of us will have to perform at some point, yet rarely do we have any kind of training for it. Whether it is a best man’s speech at a wedding, an introductory speech at a conference, or a pitch at a meeting… it is often the case that one is left to one’s own devices when working out how to put together and deliver the goods!
Of course, public speeches are varied in tone, importance, and function. But all instances of public speaking can be helped along by the same set of guidelines. Here are our big tips for calming you in the face of a public speech and making it the best speech it can be.
WRITING THE SPEECH
1. Don’t Overstuff It
The tendency can be, especially if you are new to speech writing, to try and express every idea that comes through your head. Even now, as somebody who writes for a living, I always have many more ideas than will end up in the finished speech, and sometimes struggle to whittle them down.
A speech must have clarity, and therefore needs to move towards a single goal within a limited theme. The best way to do this is to bullet-point all of your ideas before writing. Once this is done, decide which ideas are the most important, ensuring that all of them help you to move towards the same conclusion or theme.
2. Tell A Story
All good speeches have a story to them… or a ‘journey’ if you prefer. Once you have your bulleted ideas, try and order them into a satisfying sequence, preferably with each leading neatly onto the next. Be mindful of that old trope; every story has a beginning a middle and an end.
3. Make It Relatable
Audiences connect best with a speech when they feel that they can relate to it. There are many ways you can do this. One is to focus on an issue that you know your audience already cares about. Another is to regale them with relevant personal experiences within the speech. Relatability, the idea that the Venn diagram of you and your audience overlaps at some point, is the key to connecting to your audience.
4. Use Your Own Voice
If you are not a natural creative writer, you may find that you write in quite a formal way. In academic education, this is what everybody learns, and so is the default style for some. However, it seems to be mindful of the fact that this style, when spoken out loud, is not especially endearing. It does not reflect natural speech. My best advice is to write how you speak… even if it feels a bit odd grammatically. This will also help your delivery, as the words will feel more comfortable to speak.
DELIVERING THE SPEECH
You might not get nervous in these kinds of situations… but I think it’s fair to say most people do, even if it’s just a little bit. Know that, whatever happens, you can always fall back on the breath. When preparing to go on for your speech, focusing on the breath will steady your pulse. During the speech, should you stumble or panic, you can always focus on the breath for a moment to calm and reset yourself.
2. Clear Your Head
The breath is also a great tool to help you clear your head. Clearing your head before a speech is a really good idea. Not only does it prevent you from spiralling into all of the possible things that could go wrong during your speech, but it also focuses you on the moment. And if a successful speech requires anything for success, it is the ability to be in the moment.
Focus on the breath. There is nothing more you can do to prepare now. There is no use in worrying. Focus on the breath. Steady yourself. What will be will be.
3. Don’t Rush
As an actor, when I am confronted with new text or feel unprepared, I still rush. And when I rush, I stumble, or my diction goes out of the window. We often don’t notice we are rushing and worry that it will seem oddly slow if we slow down. Experience tells me that this is unlikely to be the case. Be mindful of pacing yourself early on. Slow down consciously. Because once you have done this for a few moments and found your footing, the nerves will go, and a natural rhythm should appear.
4. Don’t Let Your Audience Throw You Off
You will predict how an audience will react. But the fact is, you don’t really know what reaction you will get. Audiences are unpredictable. So, if you say something you think will get a laugh, and it doesn’t, don’t let it throw you off. Because if you get thrown off, it can be hard to recover. Try to prepare your speech as if you will have no reaction at all. It is better to be surprised by getting a reaction you didn’t prepare for than be disappointed by not getting the reaction you thought you surely would!
By Chris Thomson
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