A Guide to Public Speaking
Would you rather die than stand up in front of a group to give a
speech? If so, you're not alone. Most people feel nervous about speaking
in public. In fact, studies show that for most people speaking before a
group is one of their greatest fears. Nervousness is normal. Even experienced
public speakers report feelings of anxiety before giving a speech. Despite
nervousness, you can make it through your talk. Contrary to what you might
think, it's unlikely that you will "die" from giving a speech.
Unless you give a dramatic sigh at the end, or tell them, the audience
probably won't notice your nervousness. Believe it or not, speaking gets
easier as you gain confidence. The more experienced you become, the easier
it is to cope with pre-speech anxiety. A little nervousness actually can
be a good thing, and can give you an extra edge. To reduce anxiety to a
level you can live with, consider the following tips.
If possible, look at the setting before you speak. Becoming comfortable
with the environment in which you will give your speech helps reduce anxiety.
Use positive visualization. Many people become anxious about speaking
because they imagine themselves doing a bad job and embarrassing themselves
in front of everyone. Some people even imagine being in front of the audience
and making such fools of themselves that everyone throws tomatoes! Instead
of increasing anxiety with this negative thinking, repeatedly visualize
yourself giving a strong, confident speech. If you see yourself being confident
and performing well, you probably will.
Don't think about your speech right before you give it. Contrary to
popular belief, this doesn't help prepare you-it just makes you more nervous.
Concentrate on something else, something pleasant. Or concentrate on listening
to the speaker who talks before you.
Be well prepared. If you thoroughly understand the topic, the audience
will appreciate you more, and this will boost your self-confidence.
Concentrate on taking deep, regular breaths. Stand tall, but stay loose
Project your voice. When you sound confident, it will help you be more
confident. Don't be afraid of sounding too loud. Remember, you hear yourself
as being loud because your mouth is close to your ears. Talk to those in
the back of the room. Ask a friend to sit near the back and signal if you
are not speaking loudly enough.
Concentrate on communicating your message. This sometimes is the best
advice of all. If you are working hard to help your audience understand
your message, you won't have time to feel nervous. You'll be thinking of
them and of your message, not yourself.
Tailoring Your Speech to Your Audience
The first step in preparing a speech is to think about the occasion and
to whom you will be speaking. You wouldn't tell jokes at a funeral, but
you might at a party. In what context will you give the speech? Is it a
formal dinner, an awards banquet, an informal meeting? Even more important
than where you are giving your speech is to whom you will speak. Tailor
the speech to your audience. Such factors as age, religion, or racial,
ethnic, or cultural background affect the audience's response to your remarks.
You wouldn't give the same speech on nuclear power to children as you would
to adults. For children, you would use simpler terms and more definitions;
otherwise they wouldn't understand or listen. On the same note, an audience
who doesn't eat meat is unlikely to listen to a speech on how to grill
In addition to their general attitude, also try to determine how much
your audience knows about your topic. You wouldn't want to give a speech
about the basics of fingerpainting to an audience of accomplished artists.
Knowing your audience should affect every aspect of speech preparation
and delivery. Try to imagine at each step how your audience will respond
and what they will be able to understand. Keep them in mind when selecting
the type of language you will use. Target your introduction, examples,
support, statistics, and conclusion.
Outlining and Organizing Your Speech
Once you establish the audience, location, occasion, and purpose for your
speech, outline what you plan to say. First, write the purpose of your
speech on a piece of paper. Use an infinitive phrase, such as "to inform,"
"to explain," or "to persuade," to state what you plan to do. Next, state
whom you are going to be speaking to, such as "the Valley High P.T.A."
or "the board of directors." If yours is an informative speech, narrow
the purpose to the number of items you will discuss, like "the five steps
in decision making" or "the five steps in writing a newspaper article."
Your completed purpose statement might be "to inform the Stanford Extension
Homemakers Club of the five steps in making decisions." Limit the purpose
statement to the primary goal you plan to accomplish in your speech. After
you write your purpose statement, ask yourself:
Next, write down the thesis statement. A thesis explains the details of
your specific purpose. If your purpose is "to inform the Stanford Extension
Homemakers Club of the five steps in making decisions," then your thesis
should be: The five steps in making a decision are: 1) Identify the
problem. 2) Seek alternatives or solutions. 3) Analyze each alternative.
4) Choose an alternative. 5) Accept and evaluate the choice made.
Is my purpose statement too vague?
Can I accomplish my goal in the time allotted?
Is my purpose relevant to the audience?
Is my purpose too technical or too simple for the audience?
These five steps are your main points. Using Roman numerals, write down
these five steps allowing space in between for supporting statements. Develop
the support or subpoints for each main point. You may place your main points
in different orders. The topic will indicate which order to use.
Chronological Order. When the main points follow a time order,
indicating a sequence of events or a step-by-step process, use a chronological
Purpose: To explain the four simple steps involved in antiquing
Problem/Solution Order. Use this order in a persuasive speech. First,
convince the audience there is a problem. Then suggest solutions.
Clean the table thoroughly; sand as needed.
Paint the base coat over the old surface.
Apply the antique finish with a stiff brush, sponge, or piece of textured
Apply two coats of varnish to harden the finish.
Purpose: To persuade the audience that our state should enact
tougher laws against drunk driving.
Spatial Order. If you present a topic which logically proceeds from
top to bottom, left to right, or inside to outside, organize your main
points in the same manner.
Drunk driving is a major problem in our state.
Tougher laws penalizing drunk drivers will do much to solve this problem.
Purpose: To explain to Central High School students the three
levels of a sea laboratory.
Topical Order. When your main points are subtopics of your main
topic, and they don't fit into any particular order, use a topical order.
Level one contains the decompression chamber.
Level two contains the laboratory facilities.
Level three contains the researchers' living quarters.
Purpose: To inform the audience of the three types of extrasensory
Telepathy refers to the communication of an idea from one person to another
without benefit of the named senses.
Clairvoyance refers to seeing events and objects that take place elsewhere.
Precognition refers to the ability of knowing what is going to happen before
Speaking from Your Outline
Once you gather the information you need for your speech and organize your
main points and subpoints, it's time to prepare for the actual presentation.
Because the introduction is so important, it usually is a good idea to
memorize it. However, don't memorize the remainder of your speech word
for word. Use your outline. Outlines, on either regular paper or note cards,
help you keep track of where you are in the speech and help ensure that
you leave nothing out. Keep your notes as brief as possible by using key
words and phrases rather than formal sentences. The idea is to be able
to recall your ideas with a glance at your notes. No matter how interesting
the subject, it is difficult to listen to someone reading a speech. It's
not easy to read from a script while maintaining good eye contact and rapport
with your audience.
Prepare your introduction after you complete the research for your speech.
Sometimes, it's not readily apparent when you start writing which direction
you'll end up taking. If you write your introduction first, it may not
relate well to your topic. An introduction should capture the audience's
attention, reveal your topic, establish your credibility and good will,
and preview the body of the speech. Keep the introduction fairly short,
no more than 10 to 20 percent of your speech.
Look for introduction material as you do your research. Often, you'll
stumble across an amusing anecdote, glaring statistic, or startling example
to start your speech off with a bang. Be creative with your introduction.
If you don't capture the audience's attention immediately, it's unlikely
they'll listen carefully to the rest of your speech. Try out several introductions.
Pick one which is most likely to arouse interest about your topic. As mentioned
earlier, it's quite acceptable to write out a word-for-word introduction
and memorize it.
The conclusion usually begins with a signal that you're ending your
speech. Like your introduction, make your conclusion something your audience
will remember. Don't just trail off. End with a bang, not a whimper! Many
people don't wrap up what they have said. They leave the audience hanging.
Often, you can summarize the main points to conclude your speech. Restating
the main points in your conclusion reinforces the material you presented
and helps the audience remember it. Whatever you do, avoid a long-winded,
Tips for a Persuasive Speech
In a persuasive speech you must be concrete. Use words, phrases, and statistics
that help the audience "see" exactly what you mean. When presenting the
problem, vividly illustrate all of the consequences including the number,
range, and duration of the effects. Show how the problem threatens things
taken for granted or held dear. Relate your topic to something you know
the audience already understands. Build on this understanding to show how
the problem affects the audience. Don't just stop with the audience; show
how this problem affects loved ones, both living and future generations.
Use examples, not broad, sweeping generalities, to explain how the situation
Encourage audience participation by using rhetorical questions and suspense
to make sure that the audience is thinking about the problem. It may be
appropriate to refute other commonly held positions. Prepare for an audience
who does not believe you. Show that new information is available that indicates
circumstances have changed. Give examples of others who have changed their
minds about the problem based on this new evidence. Make sure the audience
knows it's OK to change its mind, as others have done when confronted with
Illustrate how urgent the problem is and how it affects each member
of the audience. Contrast the problem to an ideal situation and point out
how, as those most affected, your audience can do something about it.
Tips for an Informative Speech
Emphasize the most important parts of your speech by allotting more time
for them. Use repetition, but not necessarily the same words over and over,
to reinforce main ideas and concepts. Restate the same idea in different
ways. Be creative! Use novelty and humor to arouse interest. Word your
speech so the audience can visualize the information you are presenting.
Don't try to impress your audience by demonstrating a big vocabulary; use
simple words that everyone easily can understand and visualize.
Remember, people are more likely to listen to information that directly
relates to them. They are more likely to remember things they don't already
know. Use familiar concepts to help your audience understand new ones.
When you can't provide new information, try presenting old news in a new
manner. Whatever your topic, bring it home to your audience. If it's not
obvious, show the audience how important your topic is for them.
As you gather information for your speech, keep your audience in mind.
Balance the time spent on each of your main points. Make sure that the
facts, quotes, statistics, examples, and illustrations you use support
Practicing Your Speech
You probably have heard that it's good to practice in front of a mirror.
This may not be best for everyone and may be bad for some. If it makes
you more self-conscious and increases anxiety about your speech, practice
your speech using a different method. Some individuals might prefer practicing
in front of family or friends; others might do equally well speaking to
an imaginary audience or even while taking a shower. Recording a speech,
either audio or video, also can give you a nice opportunity for practice
and self-evaluation. The important thing is to realize that no one way
to practice is right for everyone. You need to find what works best for
Delivering Your Speech
A good message isn't always enough. The way you deliver your message will
affect how people listen to you. The following are tips to remember as
you deliver your speech.
- Maintain eye contact. Look at individuals, not an anonymous blur. Establish
credibility and rapport with your eyes.
- It's OK to hold notes in your hand. However, make sure your notes are
well organized and not too bulky.
- Use humor freely. A little humor can go a long way. Anecdotes, humorous
exaggerations, and gross understatements about your topic help get and
keep your audience's attention.
- Use hand gestures naturally, not jerkily, to accent and to emphasize
ideas. Don't just stand stiffly behind the podium with little or no motion.
You'll look uncomfortable and less dynamic. Use gestures to accent your
speech, but be careful not to use distracting gestures such as nervous
foot shifting, hand clasping, or clothes clutching. When speaking to a
large audience, make sure your gestures are large enough for everyone to
- Consider using visual aids. Visual aids can be a big help. Not only do
they help the audience to visualize exactly what you are talking about,
they draw attention away from you, which helps to lessen your anxiety.
Make sure the visual aids you use are large enough for everyone in the
audience to see. If you plan on using audiovisual equipment, be sure to
make arrangements to ensure that the equipment you need is available.
- Make your voice work for, not against, your speech. Don't speak so quickly
that your audience can't keep up with you or so slowly that they get bored.
Articulate each word clearly and distinctly. Remember to be expressive,
varying your voice and avoiding a monotone. A boring voice will cause the
audience to stop paying attention to your speech. Vary the pitch of your
voice for emphasis and variety, and project your voice to all corners of
- Deliver your speech confidently. A timid businessman, after delivering
his speech, looked up at the audience as if he expected to find his audience
sound asleep. Although his speech was well prepared and interesting, his
doubtful expression at the end of the speech, not the content, made the
most lasting impression. It showed on his face that he expected the audience
to dislike him and his speech. Don't kill your speech in the last 30 seconds
like the timid businessman did.
As a speaker, you have certain responsibilities. You are responsible to
your audience for what you say. When possible, support your main points
with solid evidence. If you use a quote or take material directly from
an outside source, give appropriate credit to the source you use. Lying
and fabrication not only are unethical but also will turn the audience
against you. Name-calling and mudslinging will turn an audience against
you even faster. Grossly exaggerating or distorting facts, suppressing
key information, and condemning people or ideas without revealing the source
of your information also are unethical.
For More Information
Clark, R.A. (1984). Persuasive Messages. New York: Harper &
Mills, G.E. (1972). Putting a Message Together. Indianapolis:
Osbourne, Michael. (1982). Speaking in Public. Boston: Houghton
Sprague, J. and Stuart, D. (1984). The Speakers Handbook. New
York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Volts, J.L. and Mohrmann, G.P. (1975). Audiences, Messages, Speakers.
New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Prepared by Susan Grimes, instructor and graduate student, UK College
of Communications; Martha Nall, Extension Specialist in Leadership Development;
and Sam Quick, Extension Specialist in Human Development and Family Relations.
Equal opportunity statement