Now that you know what to focus on in terms of your speech’s content (see Part 1), you’ll want to concentrate on the mechanical and technical aspects. I cannot emphasise the importance of preparation and practise enough. Part of that preparation includes discovering what you will work with (or against). For instance:
- Will you use a microphone (and do you know how to use one)?
- What is the size of the venue?
- What are the acoustics like?
- If it’s an audio-visual presentation, do you know how to use the equipment and software?
You’re probably thoroughly freaked out, but don’t be. Start with the basics: Speak to the host/s and ask them how long they expect you to speak for. If it’s an informal occasion or event, cut that number in half (remember what I said about being a bore?).
Chances are the organisers or hosts are working under immense time pressure and sometimes emotional strain. They are usually family members or friends doing something they have no experience in.
They may not have given enough thought to the real specifics–the very specifics you need to plan your speech properly. It’s thus a safe bet to cut the duration of your speech down to half because other people’s speeches are probably going to run over.
If it’s a formal occasion, you will need to stick to the time allocation (although other speakers may not). Aim to finish your speech 30 seconds before your time is up. This keeps things to the point. The host will also thank you for facilitating an easy and prompt off-stage exit.
The next step is finding out more about the venue. If you can, visit beforehand and see what it is like empty. On the day of the event, arrive early and test the equipment. This is also true if you are using a computer. Save the files you need to an external hard drive or flash drive should you need to use someone else’s computer at the last minute.
Part of your preparation is finding out exactly who your audience will comprise. You then must decide what language level you will use. For example, if you are addressing a group of primary school learners who do not speak English as a first or even second language, you are going to use simple, easy-to-follow sentences, enunciate your points, and select a moderate pace.
If you are delivering a speech at a wedding of a close friend or a family member, you may be more familiar with the attendees. You’ll know who is more conservative and who isn’t, what anecdotes most people would appreciate, and what kind of tone the hosts want you to stick to and convey (more on that to follow).
You won’t use language that is too stiff and formal, but you also won’t be so informal that your speech will appear a joke–remember that you still have to be respectful and maintain the atmosphere set by the hosts.
If you’re in a corporate or academic setting, it’s expected that you use formal language and terminology your audience is familiar with.
When used properly, humour is an effective device to incorporate. Employ it tastefully and in keeping with the tone of the event. Therefore, knowing your audience is so important: You need to be mindful of generation gaps, cultural values, religious beliefs, and just be sensible about what you are saying and how it might reflect on you.
As a general rule of thumb, steer clear of political references and sexual innuendos. Be respectful–no one wants or expects a one-person comedy show in speech format.
Once you’ve decided on the final draft of your speech, you will need to look over it for any spelling and grammatical errors. And yes, although no one except you will read the speech, it is still important to check your spelling.
Punctuation is a useful tool. You’ll recognise where you need a momentary pause, a long pause, or where a new idea or concept needs to appear. You can change the pace, volume, pitch, and emphasis accordingly.
Practise your speech before you deliver it. Whether you practise in front of the mirror, your dog, cat, or a long-suffering spouse or friend, you need to put in the time. Use a stopwatch to ensure you consistently keep to the time limit.
Practising your speech over and over makes for a more convincing and confident speaker. Knowing what you are saying means you’ll read less off and spend more time making that all-important eye contact.
If you’re still reading this, I’ve saved the best advice for last. Relax and have fun! If it’s your first time delivering a speech, you can let the audience know. Sometimes, admitting you’re nervous paradoxically calms your nerves.
Since you are up there in front of all those people, you may as well be yourself and let your personality win them over. Once you’ve hooked them, you’ll realise that they’re pretty amenable–so make the most of that by delivering the best quality speech you can.