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Give Me a Speech! How to Succeed in Public Speaking

Updated on February 18, 2012

You have to give a speech for work, for school, or for your best friend's wedding. You are terrified. What are you going to talk about? How are you going to get up in front of all those people? What will they think of you? Don't worry--follow these five tips for success!

1 - Open With a Bang

When you give a speech, you have just a few minutes to capture your audience's attention and to make a first impression. They will make up their minds about you very quickly. If you aren't naturally funny, or if you are speaking in front of a conservative audience, DO NOT open with a joke. If your joke backfires, you might ruin the entire speech. Instead, try opening with an inspirational quote (you can find quotes by subject on many web sites). Or, share a personal story about yourself--but not too personal. Starting your speech with something memorable is important and will help you succeed.

2 - Have a Strong Beginning, Middle, and End

A good speech has a memorable BEGINNING (see above) and quickly gives the audience an idea of what the purpose of the speech is. You should be aiming to make your audience want to DO something or FEEL something. You need to know in your own mind what the goal of your speech is. You should make it clear to your audience right up front what your speech is about.

The MIDDLE of your speech should contain at least three or four supporting points. Don't go off on tangents. Each point should relate back to the main purpose of your speech (to make your audience do or feel something).

The END of your speech should be strong, and should sum up your key points and main purpose. It's nice to end with something that relates back to the start of the speech, if possible. For example, if you started with an inspirational quote from a historical figure, try ending with a story or another quote by the same person that wraps it all up. It takes some research time to do this, but it can be worth the effort.

When you END your speech it is not necessary to thank the audience. Make your last words memorable, but there is no need to say thank you. It can actually diminish your ending.

Example - Speech About My Best Friend The Groom

Purpose of speech - to make the audience see what a great guy the groom is.

Beginning - funny story about how I met the groom in high school when he helped tutor me in math.

Middle - three examples from over the years about what a great guy he is.

End - inspirational quote about how nice guys finish first.

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3 - Use Notes if You Need Them

Notes are nothing to be ashamed of, particularly if you are not an experienced public speaker. You can write your speech out word for word, or just make an outline. Either way, you should strive not to use your notes, but just to have them as backup. Practice your speech until you are sick of hearing yourself, and then practice some more. Practice in front of the mirror and in front of your friends. Being comfortable with your material will help you succeed.

4 - Scope Out the Location in Advance

If you are nervous, it will help if you can check out the layout of the room where you will be speaking ahead of time. Get a look at the front of the room where you will stand. Find out if there will be a lecturn (sometimes mistakenly called a podium), and if so whether you want to stand behind it or not. Find out if there will be a microphone and if not, estimate whether you can project loudly enough to be heard in the room.

5 - Relax and Breathe

Some nerves are normal. If you feel overwhelmed with nerves as you get ready to go on, focus on your breath. No matter how nervous you are, your breath is like an anchor that is always there to keep you steady and centered.

Good luck!

Sage Carter shares ideas, information, and advice for better living. She is also a member of Toastmasters International, the renowned public speaking and leadership organization. Visit her at


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      Frederick Garret 3 years ago

      I really like the image of your breath being “like an anchor”. Many people swear that deep breathing really calms them down, but it has never had any effect on my nerves. However, it does provide a central focus that allows you to concentrate. Just “like an anchor’.

      I would also add a tip from the popular ted talk, which is to adopt a dominant physical position for around a minute before you present. It does wonders for the nerves. Another thing I would add is to simply practice a ridiculous amount. To quote , “never turn down an opportunity to speak in front of a lot of people if you can help it.” By constantly forcing yourself to be in the limelight, you will eventually become much more comfortable with the idea of presenting.