Introduction | Message | Audience | Structure | Physical Aspects | Psychological Aspects


1. How to deal with on-the-spot-questions, which may be private questions regarding the topic (how to answer them in a wise and mature way).

Answer: One can respond to such private questions in a general way without specifically targeting the person asking the question. It is important to acknowledge the questioner and use sensitivity in dealing with the question. Sometimes it may be wise or necessary to address a sensitive issue with the individual after the meeting. Always respond to the question posed, not the personality concerned.

It is always wise to expect questions after your presentation and therefore prepare how you will answer them. Keep questions to the end of the presentation so that they do not interrupt the flow of the speech. The answers usually arise during the process of the presentations. However, it is good practice to schedule your questions before your summary so that you can end on a positive note.

Along with your prepared talk, it is beneficial to rehearse the question and answer sessions. Ask yourself whether the questions may arise because of lack of clarity, too much information, poor logic or simply because there is no room to include everything.

*Main points about question time: *

  • Listen carefully – make sure you understand the question
  • Repeat it in your own words
  • Answer it confidently and concisely
  • Where possible refer back to any visuals which may provide the answer
  • If the question is long and general, highlight only part of it and give a short answer

A few things to avoid during question time:

  • Do not be defensive – use open body language and be as pleasant as possible
  • Do not lie – if you do not know the answer – pause and think about what you are going to say or inform the speaker that you will look it up and return with response later

2. Adapt a speech to different audiences (one message, various speeches for various audiences)

  • An approach that is relevant to the audience in question
  • Appropriate language (vocabulary), examples, visual aids, style, tone, pitch and pace of presentation may vary according to audience
  • Use the language of living room, no fancy words and more conversational in tone
  • Length of speech may vary according to age and concentration span
  • Use inclusive language and respect diversity of the group:
    In a class situation where young and mature students of different gender and cultures listen to the same presentation – inclusivity and sensitivity are very important aspects to consider when holding a speech
  • During a presentation the speaker enters many perceptual worlds simultaneously (DeVito year? p.293)
  • The classroom is usually a ‘known audience’ and presentation is adapted appropriately
  • Unknown audience – analyse and break down barriers using ‘icebreakers’
  • Always keep the audience’s needs in mind during preparation of speech e.g. a mixed cultural group in your college or a mixed group of mature students and students who have just started college
  • During preparation of speech ask yourself the following questions:
    1. What if the majority are men or women?
    2. What if the majority are over a certain age?
    3. What if the listeners come with their spouses and children?
    4. What if the listeners are from a specific cultural background?

Keeping the above in mind should help you prepare and consider alternative strategies if necessary before or during the presentation. Always prepare for the unexpected, the possible and the improbable. Pick up on body language and other feedback of listeners and make the necessary adjustments to the message being delivered. Adaptation is paramount since the message should reach many different listeners (Tubs & Moss, 2003, p394). The ‘common denominator’ must be constantly searched for by the speaker with regard to a known or an unknown audience.

3. Various tips on how to adapt your speech to different audiences:

  • Clear up any misapprehensions and disagreements
  • Plan and organize speech from areas of agreement
  • Do not get personal – deal with issues, not personalities
  • Avoid stereotyping and exaggeration
  • Clarity of thought – say what you mean and mean what you say
  • Acknowledge and respect differences of culture and opinion
  • Maintain a firm but flexible stance at all times
  • Empathy is important throughout presentation
  • Tell a personal story similar to present situation of audience
  • Get them to share and/or write down positive elements in their lives
  • Hope is a necessary thread running throughout the entire message
  • Point out positive strengths, energies, characteristics and traits present in the listeners
  • Propose an action plan and possible remedies to improve the situation of your listeners
  • Support from like-minded people to achieve future goals


  1. Comeaux, P. (1996) Workbook for public speaking, Dubuque, 1A: McGraw-Hill.
  2. Crosling, G. & Ward, I. (2002). Oral communication: the workplace needs and uses of business graduate employees, English for Specific Purposes, 21, pp. 41-75.
  3. Eunson, B. (2005) Communicating in the 21st Century. Milton, Qld: John Wiley & Sons Australia Ltd.
  4. Tubbs L. Steward. (2003) Human Communication, McGraw-Hill, pp. 392-436.
  5. DeVito J. A. (2000) Human Communication, Addison Wesley, pp. 284-294.

Additional Interactive Input:


Read, reflect and critically comment on some of these famous speeches:

  1. “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King Jr, 28th August 1963
  2. Irish Proclamation of Independence, 24th April 1916:
  3. The Gettysburg address by President Abraham Lincoln, 19th November 1863:
  4. Former Southern African President Nelson Mandela inauguration Address, 10th May 1994:
  5. Former US American President John F Kennedy Berlin Address:

Additional interactive material:

  1. Discussion – Consider what types of voice makes people lose interest. Which teachers did you enjoy listening to in school and which ones did you not enjoy? Why?
  2. Newscaster – Read a short newspaper article aloud and try to make it sound as interesting as possible. Depending on the nature of the news item you will have to adopt an appropriate tone of voice, e.g. serious, funny, quirky etc.
  3. Newsreaders and reporters are helpful to listen to as they use vocal techniques to engage their audience.
  4. Imagine you are appointed the president of your local sports club. Plan and prepare an appropriate speech for your inauguration one week later.
  5. A group of Spanish students are visiting your town for two weeks and you are asked to give the ‘welcome address’ which will be eight minutes long. How will you approach/plan this presentation and what type of language will you adopt for your delivery?
  6. Personal Style – Audiences prefer speakers who speak in a personal rather than an impersonal style, who speak with them rather than at them. You can achieve a more personal style by using personal pronouns, asking questions, and creating group harmony (DeVito, Human Communication, 344) Discuss.
  7. Listen to the speech of a famous speaker (e.g. President Obama) and answer the following questions:
    • What was the purpose of the speech?
    • What factors in the message and context of the message led you to your conclusions? What external factors influenced your opinion?
    • Which method(s) of organisations does the speech illustrate?
    • How effective was the speaker’s use of language?
    • Was humour or satire used? How effective were they?
    • Was the message one-sided or two-sided? Was it appropriate, given the conditions of the speech?
    • Was the conclusion stated or left to interpretation? Was it the most appropriate technique for the situation in which the message was given?

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