effective public speakingYou are sitting at the back of a large room with 80 other people.  You try to sit up straight but you feel yourself slouching deeper and deeper into your chair by the minute.  Everyone is focused on the current presenter, who, by the way, is doing a wonderful job.  You sheepishly glance at the outline in front of you and flip through some 3×5 index cards while you wait.  A few more minutes later, a large applause erupts from the audience, the speaker bows, and exits the stage.  The commentator’s next words make you cringe, “We would like to welcome our next speaker…”  You body bolts into an upright position, your feet jam firmly into the group, and you can feel the hairs at the back of your neck stand up.  You are next.

Public speaking: some do it well, few are masters at it, and we all dread it.  Everyone has to engage in some sort of public speaking at some point in the lives; whether it is at work, in school, or simply giving a toast at an event.  Unfortunately, it is not everyone’s forte.  If you have a big speech, a presentation, or a special event coming up, we are here to help settle your nerves.  Sit back and relax your shoulders as we go over some tips and tricks on how to master effective public speaking.  Don’t worry; you won’t have to say anything yet!

Before You Begin Drafting Your Speech

There are three phases that you will go through when you engage in public speaking: initial brainstorming, preparation, and execution.  Let’s take a look at the what you will need to do to prepare before your speech.

Who is Your Audience?  Before you start preparing your speech, determine who your audience is going to be.  For instance, are they young college students or a group of working professional?  Your audience should also determine how you cater your speech.  Find out the number of people you will be speaking to as well.  If you are working with a smaller crowd, your speech can even work to engage some of the audience members to ignite interest.

Knowledge Level:  As you become aware of who your audience will be, it is also helpful to know how much your audience will know already about what you will be talking about.  If you are talking to people who are trying to learn about the subject, your speech can be more informative.  However, if you are talking to individuals who are already experts, make sure you do not simply tell them things that will seem like common knowledge.

Be Flexible:  There is a good chance that even if you are prepared to give a certain type of speech to a particular group of people, your audience could change come the day of the event.  For example, more or less people could show up, or your audience may turn out more or less formal than you thought it was.  In that case, you should be able to be adaptable.

Writing Your Speech

You are onto the second and possibly most important part of your preparation: writing your speech.  You can make it a little easier for yourself by referring to these steps:

Research:  The only way that you are going to be (and sound) adequately prepared when you are giving your speech is to do proper research.  You will need to know what you are talking about, and know it well.  Sometimes, writing everything down that you want to say will help, even if you end up cutting some parts off as you go.  Get as many books on the subject as you can, go online, and consult published material, professional, or professors on the subject.  Remember that with anything online, make sure you are referencing credible sources.

Holes:  One common mistake that people make when they are preparing their speech is to not ask themselves questions while they are drafting.  Read your speech over and ask yourself questions throughout — you might notice some holes or uncertainties that the audience might come across.  Even if the people you are speaking to are experts on the subject, making sure that you have all your information correct will make you look like an expert as well.

Questions:  Some speeches require that the presenter ask the audience if they have any questions.  Even if questions are not included in the schedule, make sure that you factor them in.  If you think someone is not going to ask you a question, chances are, they probably will — that is just how things work!  Your research and preparation should include answering some of your own mock questions.

Timing:  Make sure you stick with the allotted time for your speech.  Practice with a stop watch so that you can time yourself.  Going over or under can affect your schedule, grade, and overall performance — so make sure you extend or decrease you speech to where it needs to be.   For some assistance, you can assume that around 2000 words will take up 10 minutes of time.

Practice:  It goes without saying that you should practice your speech multiple times before you give it.  And we do not just mean practicing alone in your bedroom.  Speak in front of a mirror so that you can check your body language and delivery, ask your friends or family if you can practice for them, or you can even record yourself to see how you sound.  This will help you notice little things, such as if you are speaking too quickly, slowly, or using too many interjections.

effective public speakingDelivery

You have reached the final stage!  Let’s take a look at what you can do to make your delivery go smoothly and as planned.

Observe:  If you are feeling any nerves about your big day, listen to some good public speakers and take note of their style, delivery, and ease.  There is no reason why you cannot deliver a speech just as good, or better than the greats!

Be Appropriate:  You might feel a pang of nerves during your speech, but don’t worry — this is normal! If you have a tendency to crack jokes or take on a persona when you get nervous , make sure you keep your speech professional and appropriate; unless you are a comedian.

Make Eye Contact:  While you are speaking, do not rely completely on your notes or index cards, as this could decrease your engagement with your audience.  Making eye contact will show them that you are confident and sure of yourself, your speech, and your information.

Concentrate:  When you are giving your speech, do not get distracted by anyone in the audience or by your nerves.  Although it is easier said than done, simply focus and concentrate on speaking clearly, effectively, and confidently.  The key here is to practice as much as you can beforehand so that you are aware of what you need to do to have a fluid and successful execution.  For some people, this could mean making headlines on their index cards, creating bullet points in their head, or using certain hand gestures.


It is not the end of the world!  Be yourself and have fun.  If you have to, remember that you can fake it until you make it, because ultimately, the only person that is aware of how you feel in the room is you.  Exude as much confidence as you can, show your audience that you are having a good time, and your energy will be bounced off to them.  Remember to: practice, practice, practice, and you will be ready to knock ’em dead!

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