Speech Presentation Tips
If you’re presenting a speech before long, I encourage you to take a look through the following tips. In fact, read through them often as you’re practicing your speech ahead of time. You are practicing ahead of time, right? Ok, so here we go with the tips:
I make this point in my speech writing tips as well, but it deserves emphasis here again. Do NOT start out any presentation with an apology. At a social speech, no one’s expecting you to knock their socks off. Just speak. You’ll have their support and sympathy if you’re struggling. But don’t make it worse by starting out with the admission. Then they’ll be expecting you to fail.
If you’re in a professional setting, then get the help you need to offer a professional speech. Either you’re getting paid to make the speech, or something is riding on your success. So invest in the results if necessary. Don’t apologize about not being prepared or speaking poorly. BE prepared and speak well. I don’t mean to talk down to you as a reader here, but it needs to be said for the few who might be getting ready to start a speech with, “I’m sorry that I don’t have a very good speech for you today,” or, “I’m really nervous, so I apologize in advance for all my mistakes.”
Note: From this point on in this article, I’ll write to the professional presenter. Everything applies to the social speaker, but a social speaker can get away with errors because people are expecting less.
NO UNINTENTIONAL UMs and UHs
Note the emphasis on “unintentional” here. Sometimes, adding an “um” or “uh” to a speech can make for a hilarious moment. That’s an intentional part of the presentation, and the right person can turn an “um” into a terrific audience laugh.
But when you’re peppering your speech with hesitations simply because you don’t know your speech very well, the results can be anywhere from “acceptable” (but not great) to downright distracting.
I remember back in high school when we used to actually count every “um” and “uh” from one of our teachers, to the point that we didn’t ever hear what he was actually saying. You don’t want this happening during your speech. (See “Practice?” below.)
USE BODY LANGUAGE
First things first, plant those bloody feet on the ground! Next to hesitations, shifting from foot to foot and/or swaying the body from side to side can be one of the most distracting events in a speech. This usually comes about because of nerves, which can be eliminated a good deal by – guess what – practice.
Now, movement itself is not the distraction. It is the back and forth that practically gets the audience seasick. That’s what you want to avoid.
Movement, though, can be fantastic. People speak with their bodies. If you know your speech well enough to take your eyes off it and look out at the audience (ahem – a MUST at the very least), you may just be able to speak like a real person, gesturing with your hands, rolling your eyes, or tipping your head just so to punctuate a joke.
In fact, there are at least two very good approaches to speaking: one involves walking the stage rather than standing at a podium. In this instance, you know pretty specifically what you want to say, even if it’s not memorized word for word. This gives you a free body for really getting in touch with your audience. The other option is to stand at that podium if your specific word selection is very powerful and you need to make sure you get it exact. In this case, though, know the speech well enough that you can still gesture and commune with the audience with your face and body, even while standing at the podium.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS
I’ll keep this one brief, because you knew it already, right? I’m the first one to tell you that I can’t stand dressing up. But how you dress is part of your presentation. Consider the audience and dress accordingly.
This doesn’t always mean business attire. Casual is fine in the right circumstance. So is a costume. I used to actually dress up and speak as Merlin when introducing our section on Arthurian literature, back in my teaching days. You can bet that everyone was paying attention!
PAUSE, EMPHASIZE, REPEAT. PAUSE, EMPHASIZE, REPEAT.
Stated twice for a reason. I’m emphasizing this tip.
The speech should be written with pauses and emphasis built in, but if it isn’t, don’t hesitate to repeat your points, pause to let a comment sink in, or emphasize certain phrases.
These elements can VASTLY help with listener understanding. Emphasis helps to maintain (or recapture) people’s attention – otherwise, you’re lulling them to sleep with a monotone. It also helps direct them to the key points you’re making.
Pauses help let them store information for better recall. Too much too fast, they’ll end up losing a lot of what you say.
Repetition is critical, because not everyone learns well by listening, and most people space off from time to time. (Even if you’re interesting them, they may take one of your ideas and start running with it in their minds.) By repeating what you’ve said, you help to solidify your message in their minds.
So, it’s quiz time. Ready? [Short pause.]
What three elements should you use to solidify your message in people’s minds? Pauses, emphasis, and repetition.
Put these together with the other presentation tips discussed above and you’re bound to provide your audience with a memorable speech.