I have been standing up in front of audiences for a very long time, but do not let that fool you; I still get really nervous when I do it! I find myself ruing the day that I said 'yes' to giving that speech, or the day I agreed to perform that magic show, but once I'm engaged with the audience there is no greater feeling and the nerves disappear ("just like that ").
I've dealt with audiences of over 500 people, won competitions, and both written statements for people and given them myself. But, because that little flicker of terror we all get when we hear the words 'public speaking', there really is no magic to it. Even the most nervous person can feel confident in front of an audience, and I would like to share some of my experience with you.
Everyone has to give a speech at some point in their lives and most people do not want to. Speeches can be nerve-wracking, potentially embarrassing experiences – and, as public speaking sends little shivers of terror careening down our spines, we often try to avoid giving them. But we do not have to! I'm going to share a few trade-secrets with you. Soon you'll be giving that killer speech and you'll have that professional edge you need.
Of course, all rules are made to be broken, but these guidelines are only meant to be structural aids. I want to help you be as original and engaging as you can be, but if you want to do it your own way then remember (to paraphrase Robert Mckee);
- The beginner learns the rules The student learns to break the rules The artist masters the form.
How to write a speech
Some people say that speech writing is an art-form, and that may be true, but every successful speech has a recipe that includes several key ingredients:
And in order to get these right you need both to plan, prepare and to practice.
Planning Why are you giving a speech?
You need to remember that every speech you give has a purpose and every speech tells a story.
You should never underestimate your audience; they are an intelligent body of people, and a group makes its mind up very quickly. No matter what genre of speech you are trying to need to keep your story simple, entertaining and easy to follow.
You need to grab their attention and keep it. A good speech will have people on the edge of their seats; it will affect your listener and it can change their perceptions. Remember, a powerful speech has rhetoric; a brilliant one has the audience.
Prepare before you you start
Think about what you need to say before you start writing; know your audience and gauge the tone.
An ill-judged tone of voice will put you on the wrong foot. Public-speakers need to be acutely aware of audience expectation. Not to be too obvious, but a send-off speech at a retirement party will be quite different from an oration at a funeral. In both cases you need to lift your audience, but you would not want to start telling embarrassing tales about the chap in the coffin next to you. But it is always up to you to judge, and that can be the hardest thing.
You need to ask yourself what you need to achieve. Are you presenting facts and figures? Do you need to persuade your audience – or are they on your side?
What kind of speech is it?
Debating I experienced some powerful public speaking quite recently. I was in the audience watching three speakers debate the Natfhe strike action affecting University lecturers, students and management.
One speaker presented himself as a neutral party. I can not for the life of me remember or work out why he was there, another had my support and the other I was quite hostile to.
By the end of the debate I had changed my position completely. The neutral party disappeared into the background, but my initial hostility was turned around by powerful words, an excellent series of points and dynamic language. One speaker lost my support; – he got a planned, but ill-judged speech. He came across as being manipulative, uncaring, and as a genuinely bad-egg.
I am quite sure that this is not the case, but it was a lesson for me – never underestimate the audience, facts and figures do not speak for themselves and the audience, if properly worked, can be changed.
For the professional debater;
List each point or anecdote and use spider-charts to cover extra ideas you may have.
Rank them; choose your strongest points, leave your weaker ones.
Now you can start to structure.
The structure of a speech will depend on your purpose. Here I provide an example for a debate / speech. A send-off speech, best-man speech, speech of thanks, a funeral origin, and so on, will need to be treated very differently.
Each point you have on your spider-diagram has a logical place, list each point chronologically and write your speech accordingly. Keep your points in your intended order; the speech will seem more powerful if it follows a logical progression.
Here's what your plan might look like;
Five minute speech:
- 1. Introduce yourself and your position on the topic 2. Outrageous statement – highlight your opponents major flaw. 3. Engage with your audience; address them directly with a rhetorical question. 4. Present the facts. 5. Compare your points with your adversary, highlight your strength and their weakness 6. Round up.
You also need to gauge the length. Do not write too much! As a rule of thumb each page should last two minutes.
You are constantly forming an impression on your audience. Repetition can be a very effective tool, but it can also be very dull and impede the progress of your argument. If you repeat yourself make sure you have a reason.
Practice giving the speech
The better you know your speech the better it will be received. Never, ever, ever read direct from the page. And if you suffer from horrible nerves there are several ways to kill them, but by far the most effective is to adopt a 'mask'. You are not being judged personally – and you will find it easier if you are an 'actor' playing the part of yourself. The moment you disengage with the objection that holds you back you will find yourself speaking with flair, you audience will enjoy it and so will you.
It's up to you to plan, prepare and practice and, if you do, you will succeed. Good luck!