You remember that speaker that droned on for an hour who spoke in a monotone and used too many complex words. Chances are, you lost interest in all of about two minutes. After the meeting, you complained to all your friends and they sympathized with you.
You also remember that speaker that grabbed your attention with a thought-provoking question, statement or humor. You sat up in your chair a little straighter and couldn’t look away. Later, you raved about the speech and found yourself wondering how they got you so interested in the first place.
This post is all about making your speech the best it can be. If you were just asked to give a speech, take a deep breath and keep reading. If you volunteered to give a speech and are a little unsure about the basics, don’t go away.
I’ve been in Toastmasters for about 2.5 years now and have participated in prepared, evaluative and impromptu speaking in the Toastmasters Program. Toastmasters is a program that is designed to help you improve your public speaking and leadership skills. It’s highly effective for many people because it’s all about learning to communicate in a safe environment, and people in the club want you to well. (It focuses mostly on the delivery of a speech, as opposed to content). I’m also the president of SPECS (Students Practicing Excellent Communication Skills) club at UCI, which is an extension of Toastmasters and teaches people the fundamentals of speaking in just a few short weeks. Toastmasters has taught me to prepare my roles in advance, listen to others and learn how to deliver an effective speech.
Speech Tips (these are by no means definitive, but they come from my observations as a Toastmaster):
1. Tell stories. As humans, we’re naturally drawn to how and why things happen, told in narrative. Stories can inspire, entertain and say things that average discourse cannot. Think about your topic and the target audience when preparing stories, whether they be true or entirely made up.
2. Use humor. Appropriate humor can liven up a conference room (or any room!) and will help gain rapport with people you don’t know. Your audience will likely be more receptive to you, especially if you can use self-deprecating humor because it shows that you can laugh at yourself. Memorize the jokes or other lines so that you can say them smoothly in your speech, making sure to pause while they laugh before moving on.
3. Try to avoid “filler” words. And, like, um and ah are all distracting to the message that you’re trying to share. Instead, replace the filler words with pauses. Collect your thoughts and resume talking.
4. State your purpose. Let the audience know why you are speaking, and try to do this in the first few sentences or they will lose interest. Be clear, and annunciate your words.
5. Don’t memorize or read your speech. The audience will be able to tell if you’re uncomfortable and will notice this if you forget a certain phrase. If you don’t know the speech entirely and have it written down, read from it and avoid the unnecessary pain.
6. Learn how to improvise. I think this is the best speech tip, especially because nothing happens exactly the way you think it will go. Be flexible when you talk, and don’t panic when you don’t know what to say. Focus on your topic, talk yourself to your next point and move on. You improvise everyday when you talk with friends about your interests and life, so it can’t be much different in a speech.
7. Practice! So much, in fact, that your dog, cat, grandma and roommates have gotten sick of it. Then practice it again. Try practicing in front of the mirror, and time yourself with a stopwatch. I recommend knowing what you want to talk about generally and saying it out loud to yourself until you feel comfortable with it. Get a notecard and write your main points (or transition words which get you talking) on it in large print. Stick to about 3-4 phrases on a card or write down a statistic or two that you have trouble remembering.
Resources that are great for the speech novice or as a refresher for experienced speakers:
Any questions? Write a comment!