Introduction | Message | Audience | Structure | Physical Aspects | Psychological Aspects
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- Select a speech topic
This may seem like an easy task, but there are infinite public speaking topics.
- How do you select a topic which is a perfect fit for you and your audience?
Your choice of topic will also lead to the key message of your speech – the entire presentation should aim at delivering this key message to your audience. Your topic and, more specifically, the key message must be selected carefully. If they are not, you will not be able to effectively deliver the speech, and your audience will be less interested or less prepared to receive your message.
This begs the question:
- How do you choose a great speech topic? What is your general purpose?
There are three basic types of speeches:
- Speeches that Educate eg a seminar about real estate investments; a course about leadership; a corporate briefing outlining the status of a pursuit
- Speeches that Motivate eg a candidate’s election speech; a fundraising pitch; a business proposal to investors
- Speeches that Entertain eg a story read to children; a dramatic tale; a humorous after-dinner speech
This decision will influence many decisions you make as you are preparing your speech, so it is important that you are clear on your intended goal. Decide what you want to accomplish when you choose your key message or the presentation.
The Key Message
What is your key message?
The key message is the central idea of your presentation. All other speech elements should support the key message.
- Clarity: Try to express the key message in a single sentence. If you cannot do this, you need more clarity.
- Passion: Your key message must be something you believe in.
- Knowledge: What do you know about your key message? Can you draw stories from personal experience? Have you researched the topic?
We like to believe that our entire presentation will be remembered. The reality is that the audience will remember only one or two points. Your speech should be designed to ensure that your audience remembers the key message.
A successful speech means that the audience understands the message.
Audience analysis is needed to determine which messages the audience is willing to receive from you:
- Who is your target group? Do they have a lot of technical knowledge? Students? Business leaders? Elderly people? Parents? People from various cultural backgrounds?
- How is your audience connected to you? Is the audience filled with your peers? Subordinates? Superiors? Are you an outsider? Are you viewed as an expert?
- How large is the audience? Is it so small that everyone will see the beads of sweating forming on your forehead? Are you in a large auditorium?
- What message does the audience want to receive? This is just as important as asking yourself which key message you want to deliver.
- If you are passionate, but your audience does not care, your presentation will fail. (They will tune out.)
- If you deliver what the audience desires, but you do not care, your presentation will fail.
- If you attempt to speak about a topic you have no expertise in or experience to draw from, your presentation will fail. The content of your speech will be empty and superficial.
If you find a topic where you have both expertise and passion, and the audience is interested, you will succeed.
The scope of your presentation
Before you proceed, you still need to determine the scope of your presentation. The scope is naturally influenced by elements discussed earlier:
- Your general purpose
- Your core message
- The needs of your audience
There is one further key element you need to consider: What are the constraints on your presentation?
- How much time is allowed?
- What is the context of your presentation? There are a lot of factors that come into play which only you can know. One more important aspect is knowing whether or not others will be speaking at the same event on similar topics.
Your speech needs structure. Without structure, your audience will either wonder what your key message is or they will lose interest entirely. A speech outline is a vital tool.
Writing the First Draft
Tips for writing the first draft
- Set a deadline.
- Write in key words.
- Write what comes to your mind. You do not need to write the parts of your speech in chronological order.
- Do not worry about transitions.
- Do not worry about words. Just get the ideas down using whatever words first come to your mind.
- Do not worry about the length. It is okay if your first draft is way too long.
Allow yourself the time to edit with a focus on clarity, concision, continuity, variety and impact. When you revise your speech you do two things simultaneously:
Ensure that your paragraphs, sections, stories, and transitions combine to produce a well-organized speech that succeeds in delivering your key message.
Edit your words, phrases, and sentences to find the precise combination of words that invoke emotions and create images in a memorable way. To make your audience remember your key message, you need to make them remember your words and the images you have created in their minds.
Inspiration is provided by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (year) who wrote: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
For each element of your presentation, ask yourself “Is this essential?” If the answer is: no, cut it.
If your speech is void of rhetorical devices, it is like a painting void of colours.
When you use these tools, your presentation will have a greater impact (easier to remember) as well as being more attractive to listen to). Of the very large number of rhetorical tools, we will investigate three types here:
- Tools which involve sounds (often based on repetition), e.g. alliteration, assonance and onomatopoeia
- Tools which involve repetition of words, phrases, or ideas (often with parallelism), e.g. anaphora
- Tools which change the usual meaning of words, e.g. metaphors and similes.
1. Rhetorical tools: Sound
Sound-based rhetorical techniques add a poetic melody to speeches. Three of the most common forms are:
- Alliteration – repetition of the same sound at the beginning of nearby words, e.g. “what my wife wanted”, “her husband has had”
- Assonance – repetition of the same vowel sound in nearby words, e.g. “how now brown cow”
- Onomatopoeia – a word which imitates the sound of itself, e.g. “buzz”, “whoosh”, “meow”
2. Rhetorical Tools: Repetition of Words or Ideas
Two common forms involve repetition in successive clauses or sentences.
- Anaphora – repetition of a word or phrase at the start of successive clauses or sentences, e.g. We shall […]. We shall […]. We shall […].
- Epistrophe – repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive clauses or sentences e.g. “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny compared to what lies within us.” Repetition is commonly used for emphasis.
3. Rhetorical Tools which change word meanings
Three common rhetorical devices by which words can take on new meanings are:
- Personification – giving human qualities to abstract ideas, inanimate objects, plants, or animals, e.g. “The trees called out to me.”
- Metaphor – a comparison of two seemingly unlike things, e.g. “Life is a highway.”
- Simile – same as metaphor, but using either “like” or “as”, e.g. “Life is like a box of chocolates.”
At this stage, the words are ready, but that is all you have – words. A presentation is not read by the audience; it is listened to and watched.