Speaking is different to writing – you can be heard and you can be seen. So, assuming your speech structure and content are adequate (see How To Write a Speech), presentation is all-important.
Vocal variety is required. Nothing puts off an audience more than a monotonic, boring delivery. Think here the five ‘Ps’: pace, pause, pitch, power and projection.
- Pace: ensuring the speed of your delivery is neither so slow as to put an audience to sleep nor too fast for an audience to understand;
- Pause: inserting breaks in your delivery at suitable points, especially where you want to hold attention before making an important point. Such breaks will secure an audience’s attention;
- Pitch: having a pleasant intonation in your voice. Some accents seem to do this wonderfully well. Others tend to come across as harsh or too forceful for ‘Australian’ ears. Try and gauge your audience and adjust your voice tone accordingly;
- Power: some speakers verge on yelling, others seem to mutter and mumble to themselves rather than trying to reach an audience. There is a happy medium to try and strike.
- Projection: trained speakers and singers seem to be able to throw their voice to reach into all corners of a room with little visible effort. Other speakers struggle to be heard. If you’re in the latter group a microphone could be of assistance, though if it is of the hand-held variety it can compromise body language and effective use requires care and practice.
Judicious use and variation of each of the above enhances speech delivery.
Some speeches are formal and the message is paramount, eg: delivering a scientific speech to a large gathering of peers. Body language is not really called for, though even here a small amount would not go amiss. But most speeches have more impact and engage better with an audience if appropriate body language is used, which means:
- Clever use of the available speaking area to emphasise action and development in the speech;
- Eye contact to engage with an audience – in practice this means varying your apparent gaze to different parts of an audience to focus somewhere just above their heads;
- Hand gestures and other types of body movement to emphasise points in the speech; and
- Use of props to help get points across.
Humour hardly ever goes astray in a speech, even where the subject matter is serious. Paradoxically it can often have the effect of enlisting an audience to take you and your message more seriously. If you feel you are not humorous yourself, look for an appropriate humorous quote or example to bolster your speech. Your audience will generally appreciate it.
Remember the laws of recency and primacy, ie: what you say last and what you say first in your speech are the parts most likely to be remembered by an audience. Due speech writing effort and fine-tuning needs to go into the speech opening and close. (see How To Write a Speech).
So for your opening consider a dramatic statement citing an emotive or recent incident in the news, an appeal to the audience’s interest maybe, or a rhetorical or real question that you think will engage an audience’s interest.
Your conclusion should similarly leave an audience with something to remember, distilling the message you have worked so hard throughout the speech to put across. Often it is a good idea to refer back to your opening to achieve an inherently pleasing symmetry in the speech. This is known as ‘bookending’ a speech.
It is customary when delivering a speech to acknowledge whoever introduces you and to address your audience when starting, eg: ‘Madam Toastmaster, Ladies and Gentlemen . . .’ Similarly, when you finish you should hand back to your introducer so they can reclaim the floor, eg: ‘Madam Toastmaster’, accompanied by an appropriate turn and gesture.
Let’s say you absorb the above and any other tips you manage to gather and process from other sources. Is the resulting speech going to work? It’s difficult to know without some sort of practice run before an audience first. Better still if that practice run has a member of the audience appointed to tell you how your speech came across to them, with perhaps a couple of suggestions for you to work on in order to improve the speech. This is known as ‘evaluation’ in Toastmasters and is an integral part of all Toastmasters meetings.
Interested in public speaking, or needing to make a critically important speech at some time in the future? Come along to Oatley RSL Toastmasters (see Home Page) and see how it all works. Better still, join Toastmasters and become a much better and more confident public speaker than you currently are.