In most professions, public speaking will be necessary at some point and it can be unnerving if it isn’t something you’re used to.
The best way to go into any public speaking situation is to fully prepare for it, both mentally and physically. And when time is on your side, this is something you can do with guidance and support.
The main purpose is always to deliver a good speech that is received well by your audience. But right now, you’re probably just hoping to get through it without forgetting your words.
So, let’s say you’ve been given a month’s notice to prepare for a big speech in front of an audience, it’s time to get to work on all aspects from content to structure and timing.
This is about making a great speech and not just stumbling through it waiting for it to be over. The preparation stage is crucial to make it an enjoyable experience for yourself as well as your audience.
This article is the first in a series of three articles that will walk you through how to thoroughly prepare for a public speaking engagement as you get closer to delivering it. Remember you’re not born a great public speaker, public speaking is a learned skill.
This is where you can find article two (what to do a week before speaking in public) and article three (what to do the day you make a big speech in public).
Public Speaking – Your Strategy
A month before you might want to jump in and tackle your speech head-on, but for it to go really well it is best to start with a little thinking and planning.
By putting an order to things, you can tackle each point until you are comfortable and then move on to the next.
Look at what you need to improve, what works well for you and what you are most nervous about.
Writing it down will help to deal with one issue at a time until you feel ready to deliver your speech.
1. First, think about your content and the length of the speech. Is there a time limit? Have you been given guidelines? Are there strict topics to cover?
At this stage a month before, you should gather data or information that you need to include.
Don’t worry so much about the structure just yet but think about what you want to talk about and the main points that you need to get across.
2. Next, you want to think about the venue. How many will be in attendance? How big is the room?
This will allow you to start thinking about the technical side of your speech. Will you be using a podium, or will you be in front of a smaller group in a boardroom?
You will have a firm idea of how you need to project your voice and what tools are at your disposal (projector, microphone, or handouts and laptops).
3. Finally, in strategizing your speech, you want to think about your audience. What are they expecting? What do they need from you? How formal or informal is the occasion?
When it comes to preparing your speech, have this in mind so you are playing to the right crowd and can really engage them with your content. You want to give them something they will think about even long after they have left.
Public Speaking – The Structure
When it comes to putting your speech together, the structure is important for piquing the interest of the audience and keeping them wanting to hear more. So, try to structure it so that it tells a story.
Storytelling is a big part of public speeches; audiences tend to switch off if they have to listen to monotonous lists or figures that they can’t relate to.
Having a hook is the biggest winner in any public speech, and in those first few minutes, you can catch their attention with a hook that captivates them.
So, depending on the occasion, think about how you can inject this kind of compelling storytelling into your speech or presentation and you will be more confident in delivering it.
Use the first few minutes in your speech to bring the room together and grab their attention. Common ways of doing this are presenting a shocking statistic, starting with an engaging anecdote or ask a question that invites the audience to participate.
This only has to be loosely based on your content although obviously the more relevant it is the better.
The aim of this is to engage your audience and also introduce your presentation by letting the audience know there is a problem that needs solving and you are there to explain how.
In the bulk of your structure, include repetition of keywords and phrases that reinforce critical points.
It isn’t just the audience who will benefit from this as these key phrases will help remind you of the speech’s purpose and bring you back to the main focus if you go off track.
Break up the midsection of the speech with clever interaction.
Once an audience has lost interest it is incredibly difficult to get their attention back. You need to focus on not losing them, and this will happen easily if you talk about the same subject for long lengths of time.
Where possible use relevant props and / or interesting visuals. Leave long handouts until the end of the speech or it will just act as a distraction.
Finish strong by reinforcing your speech and its purpose. Remind the audience of what you were there to do and what they can take away from it.
Make sure everything you said has tied in together but leave the audience wanting more. If you have engaged them with your speech, they will be inspired to take their own action.
Public Speaking – Confidence
Confident speeches can inspire people, but you have to have confidence in yourself to deliver it first.
With a month to go, you might not even have time to think about your nerves yet, so it’s a great time to get your speech structured and learn your content inside out.
This kind of preparation ensures that you won’t feel so nervous about your content on the day.
Start to practice out loud, even rough versions of your speech so you get a feel for your clarity and volume and words that you might trip up on.
This is the time to move things around, remove or add content and to get your speech into the allotted time frame without rushing through it or trying to cram in too much.
Practice in front of friends or peers and ask for their advice and feedback. Take critiques on board, after all, they want you to succeed so their input can be invaluable to your confidence for the big day.
Next time we will look in more depth at managing nerves in the week leading up to the big speech, as well as tightening the structure of your speech to fit your time constraints and what your strategy should be toward tackling such a big event in your career.
The post after that we will look at how to prepare on the actual day of a speech.