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How to Make a Speech

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 5 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Making A Speech Speech Making Delivering

At some time or other you may be called upon to make a speech at work. This could be for a number of reasons. You might be retiring, your boss or supervisor might be retiring or leaving to take up another job elsewhere, or you may wish to give a speech to make a company announcement or it could be used as a rallying call, to announce a new company initiative or as a thank you to staff for their hard work. Because there are so many different reasons and occasions for making a speech, there will often be different approaches depending on the circumstances. There are a number of things, however, that are common considerations to all speeches and by knowing the types of things you should and shouldn’t say and do, you’ll stand more chance of your speech being accepted well and of your message being clearly understood in the way you intended it to be.

Preparation

The key to a good speech is good preparation and that all begins by asking yourself four questions:

  • Who is my audience?
  • What do they want from me or need to know from me?
  • How long am I allowed to talk for?
  • How long do I need to talk for?
If you’re asked to make a speech, hopefully you’ll have been given a few days or weeks to prepare it. It’s useful to keep a pad handy in which you can jot down thoughts as they occur to you or even record them onto a Dictaphone. Have a good idea of the themes or topics you intend to talk about and obtain any relevant facts and figures if you need those kinds of things to back your points up with. Depending on what type of speech it is, it’s often quite useful to adopt a ‘past-present’ approach. This means taking your audience on a journey back in time then bringing them up to the present as this is often a way to make an impact upon the points you are trying to make. It also helps to keep the attention span of your audience for longer if you can occasionally weave in facts that they didn’t know or to give them an insight into things which they would not have been fully aware of.

Quite often, a speech to do with business will often have the audience coming up with questions that occur to them as you’re progressing with your speech. Therefore, it’s also useful to build in your own Q&A segment in which you might say something along the lines of, “When I represent the company on business at conferences and exhibitions, the four questions I’m asked the most are….” Then you can proceed to list these one by one and give your own responses to them in turn. If there’s time and you’re comfortable with unscripted responses, you might even throw out those questions to the audience. This is bound to wake them up if you think they’re in danger of losing interest and nodding off. However, unless you’re confident and can control your audience, this can sometimes be a risky strategy as a speech can easily turn into a heated debate if you lose control.

Writing Your Speech

If you have the option of using autocue, you may want to write your speech out in its entirety. That way, you won’t miss anything out and things will come out in the order in which you intended them too. However, on the downside, if you’re not well-versed in using autocue, your speech can often sound stilted, unnatural and even boring and any humour you may be looking to inject, will not have the same effect as if you were to speak more ‘off the cuff’. Probably the better option would be to prepare some notes or bullet points which you can take onto the platform with you that you can refer to now and again and just use these as jumping off points which you can then flesh out naturally. You should try and get your ‘big idea’ across in the first few minutes of a speech to capture the audience’s attention. Professional raconteurs and speech makers will often tell you that it’s the first and last 30 seconds of a speech that the audience tends to remember the most. Your ending should, therefore, also conclude on a high or positive note and should also inspire your audience in some way.

Rehearsing and Final Checks

It’s always a good idea to rehearse your speech before you deliver it. Recording it and playing it back to yourself will give you some useful tips as to what does and doesn’t work and also about any improvements you might need to make to the way you deliver it, perhaps changing intonation or injecting humour in certain places, for example. You should also time yourself (if you have a limit on the amount of time you can talk for) and deliver your speech at the same speed as you intend to on the day. That way, you’ll be able to add to it if it’s too short or cut bits out if you’re going to run over time. If the latter is likely to be the case, then make sure you edit appropriately and cut out the less important bits rather than talking too quickly in order to try to squeeze everything in. If you end up rushing it to get everything in, you’ll have the opposite effect as you’ll lose your audience near the very beginning. Other things that can help you to iron out any problems can be by practising in front of a mirror or in front of another person who can give you their opinion.

The Big Day

As you get close to delivering your speech for real, try to relax. If you’ve had to walk up to a stage or platform to deliver it, take a pause and a few shallow breaths, just to regulate your breathing first and this will also help to calm any nerves you might have. If you’re not using a microphone, make sure you can be heard by everybody and try to move around the stage or platform a little to command everybody’s attention. If you do have a microphone, speak at your normal voice level but speak a little more slowly and distinctly and, unless your microphone is attached to you, remember not to move around in this instance or else your voice will be lost. Smile and look enthusiastic and try to look around at the audience at least as much as you look at your notes or script. If you don’t glance at the audience from time to time and you don’t look enthusiastic, you’ll soon find that the audience will get bored and switch off. Vary the pitch of your voice to convey different emotions and to inject or lessen pace as these are skills which can be used to great dramatic effect.

All in all, try to have a good time. If you’re a confident speaker, have thought about the contents of your speech, have considered who your audience is and have done the necessary pre-preparations, then you’re almost certain to receive a huge round of applause at the end and, who knows, maybe you’ll even get a standing ovation!

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