Public Speaking Tips for Beginners: Do’s and Don’ts for Giving Speeches
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
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.
Public Speaking Poll
Are you nervous about public speaking?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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