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Secrets for Mastering the Art of the Speech

How To Write and Perform for an Audience

No matter what industry you’re in, you probably have had to deliver a speech. Speeches can be tough; in fact we’ve probably all felt the anxiety that comes with delivering a speech. Will the audience be bored by my topic? Does anyone care about what I’m saying? Most importantly, what am I talking about? These are the topics addressed in my Oral Communications class. My first speech-writing attempt was a bit of a disaster; the flow was wrong and I hadn’t adapted to fit my audience’s needs. Here are five things on which to focus, once you’ve selected your topic, to ensure your speech is a success.

Analyze your audience.

A great speech is all about the emotion and engagement of people who are listening to it. What do they already know about the topic? Do their religious beliefs or age mean that they will have ideas about your subject already? Will it challenge their status quo or reinforce their beliefs? Are you trying to inform them or persuade them? To make sure that the audience remembers what you’re telling them, try and see the speech through their eyes. Then consider the environment in which they will listen to the speech. Will the audience be tired or hungry? Is it at the end of the day, or right before lunch? Are you delivering it in a small intimate setting or in a large hall? These factors should influence the way you present.

Gather supporting evidence.

You should always have evidence to support your claims; do your homework by researching the topic thoroughly and jotting down the kinds of questions you might want answered if you were in the audience. Evidence is anything from a great quote to compelling facts, especially if they help to paint a picture for your audience. If your speech includes visuals, keep it simple and impactful; a picture really can be worth a thousand words.

Develop an outline, write a draft, and get it reviewed.

Write an outline to organize your speech. Initially, it doesn’t need to include an introduction or conclusion; rather, organize your speaking points into small bites of information. Once you’ve done this it’s time to write your speech. How we speak and how we write are very different processes; write it as though you are speaking to the audience. Try to use the collective "we" rather than "you" or "I" in your speech. It’s OK to talk to yourself when writing a speech, in fact, saying it aloud as you develop it can really help the process. Use repetition within the speech to make sure that your audience absorbs the points you are trying to make. Record yourself delivering the speech and revise again. Unsure if you’ve written a good speech? Get it peer reviewed by asking friends and colleagues to give you constructive criticism.

Revise your speech again, then practice, practice, practice.

You will likely need to do multiple drafts to refine your speech. Use any feedback you’ve received. Be courageous and delete flowery or superfluous words. Speeches need clear and succinct language. Edit for clarity and to meet your time limit; remember you may speak a little faster when delivering the speech if you get nervous. Write your speech out on cue cards and practice over and over until it flows naturally. Eventually, you won’t need cue cards! Deliver your speech in front of a mirror. Do you appear relaxed? If so, then you are ready!

Believe in yourself.

By this point you know the topic like the back of your hand. You’ve researched it for hours (maybe your job depends on this knowledge and you have years of experience on which to draw). Don’t psyche yourself out. I can attest that even if I know I know my topic well, freaking out about presenting it suddenly makes those facts fly out the window. Nerves are the downfall of every presenter, so take a deep breath, you’ve got this.

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