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Speech “Therapy”: How to prepare for and give a Speech

Jerry Seinfeld humorously articulated the problem that people have with Public Speaking. He said:

“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Based on what he said, fear of public speaking may sound very pathetic. But the fact is, the fear is real and valid. Nobody is stupid enough to choose death over public speaking (I hope), but at least that’s how they feel.

I guess the reason why everyone’s afraid of public speaking is because there’s a sense of mystery to it. And there’s something about standing in front of people whose eyes are on you and ready to listen to what you have to say. In this post, let’s demystify public speaking so that, next time, you won’t have a hard time delivering a speech. Who knows? What you have to say could impact the lives of other people.

First things first: Prepare

Never fall into the illusion that great speeches just popped out of a speaker’s head. Everything has to start somewhere. Everything needs to be prepared, including speeches. So what do you do to prepare?

  • Topic: What message do you want to convey?

If you have the liberty of choosing your own topic, this will be very easy for you. But sometimes, your mind tends to think about a lot of things and that makes your topic very general. Avoid that as much as possible. Choose a very specific topic to talk about so that your mind can zero in on the words that need to be delivered.

  • Research: You don’t know everything

You might be well-versed on the topic you’ve chosen, but it pays to be humble and consult other sources of information. Sometimes, doing this will improve the thoughts that you already have. But in most cases, doing some research adds to what you already have. It makes your speech clearer and more informative. Use books that discuss the topic or use the internet for additional points.

  • Audience: Who’ll be listening to you?

It pays to know in advance who your audience will be. I can’t stress this enough. Sometimes, this even helps lessen the anxiety you might be feeling. Is the audience a student body? Is it composed mainly of adults, or youngsters, or a combination of the two? Is it a conservative audience?

In other words, know the demographics.

  • Outlining or the whole thing: How should you write it?

It depends. There are events where you need to prepare the whole speech like in a very formal situation, or the case where you’re hired to prepare a speech for someone to read. You can see this clearly during speeches made by public officials or by the CEO of the company you’re working for.

But you may also giving a speech for informal gatherings. Or you may be requested to give a speech with very little time to prepare. This is where outlining is important. Just outline your speech by using bullet points. Try not to write too much of what you want to say. Choose a topic, then lay down the subtopics. Outlines are made to trigger your memory. If it helps, write the word that triggers you to remember a story that you want to insert at a particular time. For example, you may want to write a note saying: “Insert funny anecdote about the old man who… Connect with the audience.” Whatever helps you remember.

  • Internal Preparation: Belief

With all the preparation you’ve now done, I’m sure half of the fear is gone. But it still pays to believe that you can do it. It all starts with fear. It all boils down to belief. Fear is the belief that you can’t do it. While faith is the belief that you can. So to combat fear, you must have faith. Faith that you can deliver the speech and deliver it well. Don’t think so badly about yourself. You matter. And if you believe that, then people will start to believe that what you have to say matters as well.

Before the speech

There are some things that you need to consider before doing the actual speech:

1. Wear appropriate clothes. You wouldn’t want to worry about this. Before leaving your house, make sure you’re comfortable with what you’re wearing. Make sure everything will be fine if you try to raise your hand while speaking and the like. It’s also important to wear something that won’t distract your audience. You may wear something that catches attention, but not too much. For example, it’s one thing if you wear a business suit, but what if the color is a deep violet? For some people, this will work. But it may not work for some. But the main thing is, you should be comfortable.

2. Don’t forget the copy or outline of your speech.
3. Be at the venue early. Doing this will help you set your nerves at ease. You may also try to practice standing on stage. It helps when you’re familiar of the things around you.

During the speech

Here are some tips that can help you when you start your speech:

1. Use the rostrum to your advantage.
People say that using the rostrum is like hiding from your audience. That it acts like a security blanket to keep your nerves from getting the better of you. I don’t think so. The rostrum is the speaker’s best friend. It was made to assist the speaker—to make his job easier and better.

Use the rostrum by securely placing your outline in it. If you do this, you won’t have to keep on holding your outline thereby allowing you to use your hands while you speak. If need be, walk a few steps away from the rostrum so that the audience will see you, not just your head. You can do this while speaking, and it’s not a sin to go back to the rostrum to look at your outline once again. Or if you don’t want to do this, just stand in place and let other parts of your body, face, and especially your voice deliver the message you want to give.

2. Use hand gestures.
It makes you sound more convincing—especially if you want to drive an important point—to use your hands. But not too much though. Sometimes, speakers use their hands a lot because they’re nervous. So be careful. Your audience will know.

3. Use the stage.
The stage is the platter where you put the dish (speech) you have prepared. So use it. Some people use the stage effectively by staying in one place, while others use it effectively as well by moving around. Depending on what works for you, the point is to hold your ground by standing confidently on stage. If you want to be heard, love the stage.

4. Break the bubble.
It’s important to have eye-to-eye connection with your audience. That one is scary. In order for speakers to effectively “connect”, most people recommend that they look at the foreheads of the people.

People, it’s eye-to-eye contact, not eye-to-forehead! The best way to do this is to get past this fear (remember faith?) and look directly into the eyes of your audience. Here’s where breaking the bubble comes in. Yes, you’ve successfully made the eye-to-eye contact with your audience, but there is no connection involved. Your gaze does not reach the actual eyes of the people—you aren’t able to get through the invisible bubble.

What’s the solution? Break the bubble! You do this by being sincere. Don’t be afraid to gaze intently at the audience. They’ll be gracious enough to return the favor.

5. Take it slow.
Speak with moderate speed and enunciate every word.

6. Speak as if to a friend
When you’re giving a speech use natural words. Don’t just read from your notes. It really does help if you just imagine that you’re speaking to your friend.

After the speech

  • Don’t leave the stage right away.

You wouldn’t want to leave your friend after speaking with him, right? Pause for a moment to let the message set in. You can also do this as you transition from one topic to another. A pause is a very powerful tool in public speaking. It’s nothing, but it makes quite an impact.

After a few seconds. You may begin to let the audience know that you’re done. You can say “Thank you” or use anything appropriate.

  • Don’t throw away your outlines.

You don’t think this will be your last speech, do you? Expect to do some more public speaking. Keep your outlines so that when you’re asked to give a speech, you’ll be able to go back to them, especially if you will be asked to speak about a topic that you’ve already spoken about in the past.

Your turn

Have you had to deliver a speech at last moment? Maybe you’re a professional speaker. What tips can you give to other readers? How did you overcome your fear of public speaking? Let us know in the comments!

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About the Author

MKMohammed is a project manager and business consultant. He's an avid reader and loves to write.View all posts by MK →

  1. WKWK05-28-2010

    Really beneficial article.
    This was a good reminder. Back in grade 7 my English teacher made me a laughing clown when i has to present my story in-front of the WHOLE CLASS. I still remember that day like it was just a few weeks ago. My story telling granted me THE infamous title “speechless”.

    If only i was given these tips in grade 7. :)

  2. Dave ReynoldsDave Reynolds05-30-2010

    Practice makes perfect. Put yourself in front of a camcorder and give your presentation. The results will make you squirm with discomfort…but you’ll also see all of the nervous habits you have and can take action against them.

  3. artwrter2010artwrter201006-01-2010

    I agree with Dave. I remember one time when my friend recorded my short “speech” in a party. I not only squirmed, but I couldn’t afford to look at myself. It was embarrassing, but when I finally saw myself, it made me realize that I had a lot of things to improve on.

    I will take these tips in mind. Thanks!

  4. radicalwill2010radicalwill201006-02-2010

    I’ve never had any chance to speak in front ever before, but if that chance will arrive, I’ll be quick to go back to this post because I think these tips can help me.

    Thanks a lot!