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Public Speaking Tips for Beginners: Do’s and Don’ts for Giving Speeches

Updated on August 27, 2016
CatherineGiordano profile image

Catherine Giordano is president of AnswerSearch, Inc., a market research company.

Even if you are new to public speaking, you can give a speech like a pro. It is simply a matter of preparation, practice, and understanding the techniques of giving effective speeches and presentations. Here are the do’s and don’ts of public speaking.

Public Speaking Tips

Follow these do's and don'ts tips to give a speech like a pro.
Follow these do's and don'ts tips to give a speech like a pro. | Source

Understand the primary purpose of the speech.

There are four types of speeches, plus the combinations speech.

Persuasive Speech: A persuasive speech will mainly provide reasons for a particular opinion or course of action.

Informative Speech: This will be a straight-forward speech to provide the facts of a subject to your audience.

Inspirational/Motivational speech::This speech will use emotion to get people excited to undertake a course of action. It is like the “pep-talk” a coach gives his players before they go out on the field.

Entertainment Speech: The primary objective of this speech is just to entertain. You might want to tell a humorous story or do a dramatic monologue.

Combination speech: Often a speech will have two or more of the above elements. For instance, you will provide information and then motivate people to act or you will use an entertaining story to persuade people to your point of view.

Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking. The word comes from the Greek words "glōssa" (meaning tongue) and "phobos" (meaning fear.) It's a state-of-mind, not a disease, and you can overcome it.

How to prepare the speech.

I recommend writing your speech out even if you will not be reading it.You may want to work with an outline; you may want to just do stream of consciousness. Either way, you have to make decisions about what to include in your speech. As you are writing, ideas will come to you; include them all. Later you will have to edit the speech for flow, language, and time.

Flow: You need to have food segues from one point to another. It should feel logical and seamless. You do not want to jump from topic to topic without a smooth transition.

Language: You are speaking to people, not writing an encyclopedia entry. Write it the way you speak, but also consider your audience. If you are presenting to a business group, you may want to be more formal than if you are speaking to friends.

Time: Always ask how much time is allotted for the speech. When the speech is ready, read it out and time it. If your speech is funny, make sure you include the time for laughter when you time your speech. The average person speaks about 130 words per minute.

Practice giving the speech: Say it out loud. Give it to your family. Videotape yourself and see how it looks and sounds. If there are any tongue–twisters in your speech, get rid of them.

Prepare an introduction: Keep it short. You do not have to list every degree and award, you have ever received and everything you have ever published. Just list the things that are most relevant to the audience. You can include personal information, if it is appropriate. Send a copy of the introduction to the person who will introduce you in advance. Carry a copy of your introduction with you just in case it is needed.

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How to deal with nerves

The people in the audience are there because they want to hear what you have to say. They want to like you.

You can “have them at hello.” When you take the stage, pause for a moment. Familiarize yourself with the audience. If someone you know is in the audience, look at that person as you begin. Pretend it is just a conversation between the two of you.

Don’t immediately begin your speech, Begin with a pleasantry. Comment on the weather, the eloquence of the previous speaker, etc. Just a sentence of two. This will give you time to compose yourself. You may be a little nervous at first, but as you focus on your message, you will become calmer.

It can be helpful to give yourself a little pep talk before you take the stage. Use affirmations. Tell yourself how great you will be. Visualize yourself delivering a flawless speech.

To read or not to read

The worst thing you can do is go up to the lectern and drone on as you read a prepared speech. Some people are comfortable speaking off the top of their head. As a beginner, this is not you, although you should aspire to this. Until then you can use notes or a text.

I type my speech in 14 or 16 point type so I can easily read it. I make sure I break the page at the end of a paragraph and not in the middle of a sentence because this is where a natural pause will occur. I bold or highlight a key phrase. I number the pages and put them into a loose leaf binder. The binder prevents the pages from getting out of order.

Having the speech written out gives me confidence. If I get an attack of nerves and I can’t remember what to say next, the text is there for me to use until I regain my composure.

I don’t try to memorize the speech. However, I rehearse a lot and thus I know the speech well enough so that I can glance down, see the key phrase, and then lift my eyes to the audience and say more or less what I have written down.

The audience should feel like you are having a conversation with them. You want to speak TO your audience, not AT your audience.

Good preparation and good delivery make an effective speech.
Good preparation and good delivery make an effective speech. | Source

A few pointers on delivery

Eye contact: The main reason for not reading is that you need to make eye contact with your audience. As you look out into the audience you will see someone who is very engaged. This person may be sitting forward, smiling, nodding. Hold eye contact with her for a sentence or two. Now move your eyes to another section of the audience to find someone else to make eye contact with.

Vocal variation: I used the word “drone” before. Prevent droning by using vocal variation to emphasize your meaning. Some parts make more sense when spoken slowly, some are better spoken quickly. Some parts are better spoken loudly; some are better spoken softly. Don’t be afraid to pause for a beat or two after an important point to let the information sink in.

Go ahead and use “voices” if appropriate. For instance, when I use something my son said as a child, I speak it in a child’s voice. If you are talking about something that makes you angry, sound angry. Act out your speech, as appropriate.

Avoid verbal tics; In ordinary conversation, you can get away with saying "um,” “er,” and “you know.” You must rid yourself of these verbal tics when you give a speech. Study your video tape. If you have these bad habits, train yourself to pause while you gather your thoughts instead of interjecting a meaningless sound.

Use natural gestures: You don’t want to stand there like a wooden Indian, but you don’t want to be waving your hands all around either. Your gestures should look and feel natural. Check your video-tape to see if you are using natural gestures.

When and how to use props

Only use props if you really need them to make your point clear. Suppose you are giving a speech to salesmen and want to tell them to get on the phone and make sales calls. No need to hold up your phone. Everyone knows what a phone looks like.

But suppose you want to demonstrate the script the script the salesmen should use and show them how to handle objections. Now you could take out your phone, and hold it to your face as if you were making a call. You can act out both parts of the conversation, switching the phone to your other ear, and changing your voice, when you are doing the dialogue of the other person.

How to use PowerPoint

The biggest mistake people make with PowerPoint is putting the text of their speech on the slides. You do not want people reading the slides instead of listening to you. Even worse, you don’t want them to read what you are going to say, before you even say it. On top of that, the people in the back are feeling put out because they can’t read it.

Only use PowerPoint if it adds to the presentation, for instance, to show a diagram or picture. If you use words, keep it very simple. Use a topic sentence--something like the words in this text that appear in bold. Remember the KISS principle: “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

For more advice about PowerPoint Presentations, see: How to Write Better Reports and Presentations.

Don't tell jokes. Let the humor arise naturally from your topic.
Don't tell jokes. Let the humor arise naturally from your topic. | Source

How to use humor

Use humor liberally, as appropriate. I try to have a laugh line every few paragraphs. I don’t use jokes. I just make a wry comment. If you use a joke it may fall flat. If you just say something slightly funny in the context of your comments and nobody laughs, it’s no big deal. No one besides you knew it was supposed to be a joke. Just keep talking.

This minds me of a joke. Some people are so afraid of public speaking, that if they have to deliver the eulogy at a funeral, they would gladly change places with the guy in the coffin. I set that up as a joke. If you didn’t laugh, I just “bombed.”

If there is laughter—and sometimes you get laughter where you didn’t expect it-- pause until the laughter dies down. Don’t try to speak over it.

How to handle audience participation

Having the audience participate can help get people involved, but be careful you don’t end up leading a discussion group instead of giving a speech. One good way to get audience participation is to ask an innocuous question and ask for a show of hands. “How many of you have ever …? Don’t ask a question which people will be too embarrassed to answer.

Some speakers are fine with people asking questions in the middle of their speech. I don’t like it. If hands are being raised or questions shouted out, I say that I will take questions at the end.

You might want to use “call and response,” especially in a motivational speech. Preachers do this when they say “Can I get an amen?” Another example is the chant from peace marches: "What do we want?" "Peace!" "When do we want it?" "Now!"

Once in a while you may get a heckler. Handle it with humor. The audience will be on your side and will shut the heckler down for you. It’s never happened to me. I’m waiting for a chance to use this line: “That’s a very good point. Be sure to make it the next time someone asks YOU to give a speech.”

How to end the speech.

Don’t just stop talking. And don’t say, “In conclusion” either. It’s a good idea to “close the circle” at the end. Refer back to something in the beginning of your speech. Signal that the speech is over by the tone of your voice or by saying something that people will understand is the conclusion.

Make sure your clothing works for you; not against you.

Make sure not to wear anything that will make noise. Ladies, this means be careful of jewelry that may jangle.

Make sure your clothes are comfortable and you can move in them. Make sure there are no hems hanging.

If you will be wearing a mic, make sure you have a good place to clip the mic and the battery pack.

Toastmasters will help you master the art of public speaking.
Toastmasters will help you master the art of public speaking. | Source

Speak like a pro

Follow these do’s and don’ts, and you will you will come across as a pro. (Notice how I closed the circle, going back to the beginning.)

You might also want to join Toastmasters.

This is an organization that has taught millions how to do public speaking. There are groups all over the world. if there is more than one group in your area, visit a few before deciding which group is best for you.

The best way to become an effective public speaker is to start giving speeches. Toastmasters will give you the opportunity to do that.

In a year, you will be speaking like a pro.

Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds
Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds

The author analyzed 500 TED speeches in order to discover the common elements that make the talks successful.

 

This video from toastmasters will give you some more tips on public speaking.

© 2015 Catherine Giordano

I welcome your comments.

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    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 16 months ago from Orlando Florida

      He is right, but I'm a "senior citizen" and my memory is not so good. Even a card with key words on it might not be enough to jog my memory. But I have mastered the technique of not sounding like I am reading. I start a paragraph and then look up at the audience because the one sentence reminds me of what I need to say. The script is a crutch--but what if my mind goes blank? It is reassuring to know the script is there.

    • CYong74 profile image

      Cedric Yong 16 months ago from Singapore

      To read or not to read! My speech lecturer in Uni immediately failed anyone who read from a full script.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      DzyMsLizzy: If it is a medical issue, It calls for "coping strategies" and "work-arounds." I hope you can figure out a way.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Thanks for the extra pointers. Problem is, I AM a mouth-breather, and it has nothing to do with nerves. Between allergies and finding out I have a deviated septum, I don't feel as if I get enough air in through my nose; I feel like I'm half suffocating unless I breathe through my mouth. :(

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      First, thanks for telling me I'm on the HP Facebook page. I didn't know that.

      You want to be able to maintain a strong voice. I think the idea of drinking water before hand is a good one. Have water at the podium. You can pause "for dramatic effect" and take a sip. Try to stop where you might naturally pause. Also, try to become aware of how you are breathing. If you are feeling nervous you might be breathing through your mouth instead of your nose. It is OK to pause to take a deep breath. Are you talking fast? If so, speaking at a slower pace might help. I hope this helps.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Well put! I found your article on the Hub Pages' Face Book page! Congrats for being selected for that placement!

      I've done assorted impromptu public speaking, usually at school board or city council meetings. At first, I was nervous, but I have gotten over that. What I now have to overcome is the fact that my voice rapidly becomes hoarse and weak-sounding because of heavy-duty air conditioning systems in large public buildings. Ugh! It makes me lose my voice! I have received a tip to drink extra water in these situations, but the chance to put this to the test has yet to arise.

      Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you Iris for commenting, voting up, and sharing. These are tips for beginners, but I hope even more experienced speakers can pick up something useful.

    • Pro Shell profile image

      Pro Shell 2 years ago from Vereinigten Staaten

      I am not afraid of speaking up, but these are great tips for people with less self confidence

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Yay for public speaking! You made me really miss my Toastmasters days. But I still take every opportunity I can to speak in public. Your advice was excellent as always. Voting up, sharing, etc.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      BlossomSB. Preparation does make for confidence. A little bit of nervousness can be good--it makes you more vivacious. Experience also helps keep the nervousness down. Thanks for commenting and I'm glad you found the speaking tips useful.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Some good tips here, thank you, it's an interesting hub. I think it depends on the situation and on how comfortable one is with the topic whether we get nervous or not. If it's well prepared we can be more confident.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      PegCole17: You are right--preparation and practice can reduce jitters because you will confident. Remember the audience wants to like you. They are not thee to judge you. They are there to hear what you have to say. So relax and enjoy yourself.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Public speaking can really give me a case of nerves. Once I get going on a topic that I'm comfortable talking about, the nervousness seems to go away. Your tips are valuable reminders for preparing and practicing for a speech ahead of time. The one about PowerPoint is so true. People do not seem to enjoy a speaker who reads the text already on the screen.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      lambservant: It takes a lot of practice to get good at public speaking. When I started, I found that there are a lot of small groups looking for speakers who will speak for free. I networked to find these groups, and I practiced on them. Now I get paid to speak.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 2 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      These are all excellent tips. I've done public speaking a few times and tried to employ these. But it takes time to fine tune things. This was really helpful.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Jackie Lynnley: Public speaking does get easier with practice. When I think back, I can't believe how nervous I once was. thanks for your comment.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      CherylsArt: I'm glad you found the public speaking tips helpful. thanks for commenting.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Billybuc: Teachers get to do public speaking every day all day.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great pointers, Catherine. There was a time when public speaking terrified me. Being a teacher helped immensely because now I have no problem with it at all.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Great speaking tips. It always gets easier with practice! ^+

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 2 years ago from West Virginia

      Good tips. Good pointer on allowing time for laughter for the funny speeches.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      PegCole17: I think my mind is slipping. I make homophone and spelling mistakes all the time now where I never did before. Thanks for telling my. I will fix the mistake.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hi Catherine, I'm pretty sure you didn't mean for the spelling in the picture to read as it does. Please feel free to delete this comment after you read it, won't you? The word to look for is Public (it's kind of funny).

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      eidithorne: Thank you for commenting, voting up, and sharing. Someone from HubPages saw in my profile that that I did public speaking and they asked me to do a hub on the topic. I thought there might be lots of others who need advice on public speaking.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      As someone who speaks as part of my job, I can say these are all good tips! Voted up and sharing!