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Powerful Public Speaking - How to give a good speech

Updated on May 8, 2017

You will be called upon to give a speech. Take the opportunity

It is almost inevitable that at some time during our life we will be called upon to give a speech. With many people, the very thought of having to give a speech is enough to have them start figuring how to get out of it. Well, stop right there, because you won’t be able to get out of it. At least, not without upsetting a lot of people and perhaps hurting your reputation as a caring human being. As stated at the outset, a speech or two will be inevitable during our lifetime and by our delivering it well we can not only make others feel happy but also enhance our own feelings of adequacy and self-worth. So it’s worth knowing about how to give a good speech.

The writer speaking at his daughter's wedding

Speaking in public gives us enormous opportuniies to grow

The speech we have to give might be at our own wedding, or at the wedding of a family member such as a son or daughter, or even a close friend. When we get up to speak we have the opportunity to making them feel loved and appreciated. We have the opportunity to let them know that we really are interested in their lives, and have taken the trouble to make this day a very special day for them to the best of our ability. They will be appreciative of our efforts. And they will be especially grateful if we give a good speech in which the bonds that have always been there are portrayed in the right words on this special occasion.

Tom out front of an audience

The speech before family and friends is often the most daunting

A speech before family and friends can be one of the most daunting of all presentations. You might wonder why this is so. After all, don’t these people know you? They’ve had you in and around their lives for years - maybe since the day they were born. Why would a speech before family members and friends be one of the most difficult as far as our nerviness is concerned?

The reason is familiarity. Our family and friends know us and expect of us a certain behavior. They got us pigeon-holed. They perhaps know us too well as far as viewing us as a speaker, the leader and centre of attention at the moment, as we step up to address them as an audience. There is an old saying that ‘Familiarity breeds contempt,’ and although our family and close friends might not consider us contemptible, they do see us as predictable. “Oh, John, not a speaker. He hates it.” Or worse: “He’ll muck this one up. Doesn’t have a clue on how to handle his self when it comes to speaking. He’ll be downright embarrassing.”

Surprise them! Show ‘em how wrong they are.

So how can you do this? How to give a good speech.

Another audience. This time a dinner event

Surprise them! Show them how good you are as a speaker!

The answer is to research, prepare, practice and practice even more, and then – deliver. Firstly, you need to know the general objective of your speech. Is it to inform, entertain, persuade, or motivate? It might cover all of these but one will predominate. Let us say, for this example, that the speech is to entertain, because the audience already know the person who you will be ‘wishing well, and talking about’ We will use the scenario that you are the Father of the Bride. Everyone knows the bride. However, only the close family know of her earlier years, her history, and the perhaps many amusing incidents you witnessed as she was growing up. So you can use this material in your speech.

As Gladstone was advised: "Speak often but speak shortly"

My suggestion at the outset: Don’t come up with too much material. A twelve or fifteen minute presentation at the outside is long enough. There will be other speakers. This is not a Speak-fest but a Wedding Reception. People love a good, short, amusing speech at these sorts of events. They can’t abide a man who won’t shut up.

Oh, and don’t fill yourself up with ‘Dutch courage,’ so you don’t have to worry about that speech. Have a drink. That’s fine. But don’t drink so much it takes the edge off your ability to think quickly on your feet.

Room too spacious for this audience - but persevere we must

Do enable your listeners to feel your love of them

I have written around sixty (60) Hubs on Public Speaking so I won’t go into a lot of detail here on how to write your speech other than to gather the material that will make your presentation heart-warming to your audience – especially to the main recipient of the speech, your darling daughter. Do not embarrass her. Do enable her feel the love you have for her. When you’re putting the speech material together you might find it useful to get out some of those old family photo-albums. Certain names and places might have faded from your memory. Mention her young friends from way back, if you can. After all, it’s her big day.

It's critical we define the purpose of our speech - an as early as we can.

Most important: Define in a sentence the specific purpose of your speech. Write it down. Memorize it. For from that point, all the information you need to deliver the speech at its best will be ‘gathered unto you’ by what you wrote there. Your memory and your subconscious will gather for you all you need and more. But by knowing your particular purpose, you’ll be able to jettison ideas which won’t really work; shorten and strengthen those which do – all subject to the presentation’s specific purpose. You’ll have gathered the gems and ditched any superfluous dross.

Another of the writer's audiences.

Content and Delivery are two sides of the Public Speaking Coin

As I’ve stated in other Hubs, there are two sides to the coin when it comes to giving a speech and they are of equal value. I use the coin analogy because they cannot be separated. They are integral to every presentation, even the common, every day, one-on-one conversation. They are Content and Delivery. One cannot exist without the other. But for a speech before an audience both are of equal importance. A speech carrying top-rate material fails if it is not delivered well. On the other hand, a flamboyant, dynamic delivery saying nothing of substance leaves the audience with nothing learned and nothing to take away. It also fails.

With a new chum, it's Delivery they generally worry about

In a wedding speech, the speakers will know their subject matter. Or if they don’t they should find it out and put it into their ‘ready to use locker’ at the forefront of their mind so it is there on the day. Generally, for the person who hasn’t spoken to an audience before, or has had very limited experience, it is the Delivery aspect of the presentation which is frightening to him. How to say it is likely to be more of a challenge than what to say.

Typical church hall layout. It's preferable to avoid a middle corridor if practical

There are techniques for making everyone in the room think your speaking directly to them

It has been said that there is no such thing as public speaking. What the speaker does is present to one person at a time, giving the impression to all in the audience that he is speaking to each of them personally. There is truth in this. The idea is to make every person in the audience feel that you are talking to them much like a one-to-one conversation. There are techniques for doing this and I will touch briefly on them here.

At a wedding, observe where the MC stands most of the time

At a wedding reception the guests will be seated at tables. Often there is a long, head table at which the bride and groom, best man, bridesmaids or matron-of-honor might be seated, along with the parents of bride and groom. This is typical in Australia. Other guests might be seated at round tables spread throughout the room.

My advice? Observe where the MC stands for most of the time. He will be skilled at addressing groups in this sort of gathering. He knows he has to reach everyone. You, too, will need to do this, when it is your turn to speak. So don’t be afraid to come out from behind that table and walk to the spot the MC has been making most of his announcements from. Yes, even if he has brought the roving microphone over to you at your table. Get up, and make the most of the room.

Another 'theatre style' audience set up

Get rid of any barriers. Take charge of your speaking area

If you stay at the head table and speak from behind it there will be two minor strikes against you straight away. The first is that you have a barrier between you and the bulk of your listeners. They will see only the top half of your body. The second is that all the others at the head table will have to swivel their necks or move their chairs to see you properly. Moreover, you won’t be able to see them all because some will be seated behind others from this position. Looking down the side of a long table with you on the same side is not a good speaking position. So come out from behind that table.

Learn to use the full frontal stance and look an audience member in the eye

From where the MC has been standing most of the evening, you will probably be able to see everyone in the room. Those with their backs previously towards you will have time to swing their chairs around so that you have every eye in the room is on you. From here, you have the option of speaking to the audience much as a performer on a stage. I say this, for now it is time to learn how to face an audience and address them so that every man and woman in that audience feels you are speaking to them.

Audience in nice and close, even though it's a dinner meeting

We need to duplicate our normal, one-on-one conversational scenario

Two things are of real importance: your full frontal stance to those who you are addressing, and your full eye contact to those same people. This is how we normally converse. It is natural. So this is what we need to duplicate even in a one to an audience situation.

Let us set the following scene. The long head table is to your left, the nearer end off at about thirty degrees. Along this table are sitting the ‘VIPs’ with your daughter and new husband at the centre of that table. The other tables lie either in front of you or off to your right. There is roughly the same amount of people both in front of you and off to both your right and left. The bride and groom are off at about forty-five degrees to your left. This will become a focal point. You have now strategically placed yourself where the MC has been up to you took over. He chose that position well.

Good, tight audience, suitable to venue size

Pick those people you'll be turning to look at early

Why has he chosen the position well? Because he’s already learned what you are about to learn: how to give the impression he’s speaking to everyone personally. He does this by mentally dividing the room into three segments. Those segments are described as follows. The room has been divided into three triangles. The centre triangle has its base line at the wall at your back. The apex of this triangle goes right out in front on you to meet at a centre point at the far wall directly ahead to you. This automatically creates the two side triangles, one to the left and one to the right. Your daughter is in the centre of the one to the left. You then pick a friendly face or someone you can easily see at the centre of these triangles, one of these being the bride. These are the people you concentrate on. These are you targets faces in the audience.

Okay, so now you’re up.

Once again, the old 'corridor down the middle' set up

Make a point, then turn to another of your 'targets'

Firstly thank the MC for asking you up. Turn to him fully when doing this. Once you’re introduced, he will quickly find a spot out of the limelight. You then pick out your person around half way down the room but to your front. Meet their eyes and make your opening statement. This is simply one byte, so to speak. It might be one or two short sentences. Anything from ten to thirty-five words. Then shift your feet and turn you whole body to face those either on your left towards the bride (or your right) at an angle of about forty-five degrees. Pick out the person previously chosen there and speak to them for just a sentence or so. Then you might swing back to the centre or right around to a forty-five degree angle on your right. You need to both face, full front on and make eye contact with only three people. You use these three people and talk to each of them, dividing your attention roughly between all three. Swing your body and your gaze randomly so it does not become predictable.

So what is happening here?

Done right, the whole audience will think you're talking to each one of them personally

When you speak to the person you have chosen who is sitting somewhere in the middle of the room, all of those sitting in that general direction will believe you are talking specifically to them. When you shift to the right and speak to the person you’ve chosen to the right, all those seated in that quadrant of the room will believe you’re speaking to them. The same will go to those in the left quadrant. By being deliberate, taking your time, turning and talking to the ‘face’ in each of these three areas, the whole audience will feel you are speaking personally to them. You will have avoided quick, surreptitious flickering of the eyes as you try to meet the gaze of the many without meeting any at all. There might be fifty, sixty seventy or eighty people ut there. There is no way you can meet the eyes of everyone. Don't even try.

Keep a conversational style. Leave oratory to national presidents

In this type of presentation – and most others for that matter – keep a conversational style. You’re not an orator. You are the father of the bride. Sound just as you would if you were talking to a good friend, someone you know well. Keep it light. Tell the stories and little anecdotes that you would to people you know well. But no ‘insider information’ that only the family knows about – let all the guests into the tales you’re telling.

If you’re the father of the groom, it might be a gentle ‘roast,’ always in good taste of course, about the foibles of your boy before he met this wonderful young lady he’s just married. If you’re the father of the bride, tell her how proud you are of her.

Still worried?

Part of one of the writer's after dinner audiences. A great night

If you're really worried, take some lessons. A Toastmasters International club will get you started. Why not join?

If you’re really concerned about that upcoming speech, enroll for a six or eight week course in Speech-craft with your local Toastmasters Club. There is almost bound to be one in your area. After all, they’re now in 116 countries worldwide, have around 15,000 clubs and a membership of well over a third of a million. Or is that isn’t possible, enroll for a term at an evening college where Public Speaking courses are being run. Or if money not a pressing concern, get some private tuition from a public speaking coach. For it is far easier to give that big, important speech after you’ve been exposed to a bit of theory and practice. And yes, it really is worth the money and effort.

I hope you got something useful from Good Speech – How to Give a Good Speech. And if you do have a major speech coming up, I wish you well.


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