Become a pro at giving a speech in 2024

Giving a speech can be daunting, but it’s an incredible opportunity to inspire, persuade and make a lasting impact on your audience. 

Whether you're speaking at a conference, a wedding or in a classroom, the ability to deliver a powerful speech is a valuable skill that can open doors and create meaningful connections. 

From Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech to Steve Jobs' commencement address at Stanford University, we’ve seen many amazing speeches. History is full of speeches that have inspired generations and shaped the world. 

In this comprehensive guide, we'll walk you through the essential steps to crafting and delivering a memorable speech that will leave a lasting impression on your listeners.

Crafting an effective main message

At the heart of every great speech is a clear, compelling message. This main idea or theme is what you want your audience to take away from your speech. 

To craft an effective message, start by asking yourself what you want your audience to think, feel or do after hearing your words. 

Once you have a clear goal in mind, distill your message into a single, powerful statement that sums up your main point. 

Imagine you're giving a speech about the importance of volunteering. Your main message might be: "Giving our time and talents to others can create a more compassionate and connected world."

Connecting with your audience through body language

Your body language impacts how your audience perceives and engages with your speech.

It's important to use nonverbal cues that convey confidence, warmth and authenticity to create a strong connection with your listeners. 

Some key body language tips to keep in mind include:

  • Maintaining eye contact: Look directly at your audience members, making brief but meaningful eye contact throughout the room.
  • Using gestures: Emphasize key points and add visual interest to your speech by using natural, expressive gestures.
  • Smiling: A genuine smile can put your audience at ease and create a positive, welcoming atmosphere.
  • Standing tall: To project confidence and authority, maintain good posture with your shoulders back and your feet planted firmly on the ground.

Using natural adrenaline to boost confidence

It's normal to feel nervous before giving a speech, and you can use these feelings to boost your confidence and performance. 

The key is to reframe your nerves as excitement and use that energy to fuel your passion and enthusiasm for your topic. 

Some techniques for channeling your adrenaline in a positive way include:

Power posing

Before your speech, take a few minutes to stand in a confident, big stance (such as the Superman pose) to increase your sense of power and self-assurance.

Positive self-talk

Use affirmative statements to remind yourself of your strengths and abilities, such as "I am well-prepared and ready to share my message."

Visualizing success

Picture yourself delivering your speech with clarity, confidence and impact, with your audience responding positively to your words.

Preparing for a successful speech

Effective speech writing involves a systematic process of researching, organizing and refining your content:

Choose and cite authoritative sources

First, you need to research your topic. Look for compelling facts, statistics and examples to illustrate your key points and make your message more memorable.

To give your speech credibility and impact, choose sources that support your key points. Look for references that are:

  • Reputable: Look for information from well-known, respected organizations, institutions or people in your field.
  • Current: Use the most up-to-date information available to ensure accurate content.
  • Relevant: Select sources that directly support your main points and contribute to your overall message.

When citing your sources in your speech, credit the original authors or creators properly. This demonstrates your commitment to academic integrity and helps your audience trust the information you're presenting. 

Some common ways to cite sources in a speech include:

  • Verbal attribution: Mention the author or organization name when referencing their work, such as "According to a recent study by Harvard University..."
  • Slides or handouts: If you're using visual aids, include a list of references or sources for your audience to refer to later.

Draft a compelling speech summary

Next, summarize your speech's main point or argument. This is usually best near the end of your introduction as a roadmap for the rest of your speech. 

To craft the best summary, consider the following tips:

  • Be specific: Avoid broad statements — focus on a clear, specific claim or argument.
  • Be arguable: Present a perspective or position with evidence and reasoning.
  • Be concise: Aim for a single sentence that captures your main point clearly and directly.

For example, if you're giving a speech on the benefits of meditation, your summary might be: "Regular meditation practice can reduce stress, improve focus and promote overall well-being."

Outline your speech

Once you have a solid foundation of information and your main argument, begin outlining your speech. 

Break your content down into logical sections, such as an introduction, main body and conclusion. Within each section, organize your points to flow naturally and build toward your message.

As you write your speech, focus on clear, concise language. It should be easy for your audience to understand and follow. Use short sentences, active voice and concrete examples to make your points more engaging and memorable. 

Remember to also include transitions between sections to help your audience follow your train of thought and see the connections between your ideas.

If the audience needs a call to action, include it in the conclusion. 

Tighten up sentence structure and flow

The way you structure your sentences and paragraphs can impact how your audience understands and engages with your speech.

To create a clear and compelling flow, consider the following tips:

  • Vary your sentence lengths: Alternate between short, punchy sentences and longer ones to create a dynamic and engaging rhythm.
  • Use parallel structure: When listing ideas or examples, use the same grammatical structure for each item to create a sense of balance.
  • Use transitions: Phrases like "however," "in addition" and "as a result" show the connections between your ideas and help your audience follow your train of thought.

11 tips for effective speech delivery

Practice your microphone technique

If you're using a microphone during your speech, take some time to practice with it beforehand. 

Get a feel for the optimal distance and angle to hold the microphone, and experiment with your volume and tone to ensure everyone can hear you.

Remember, the microphone is there to project your voice, so you don’t need to yell into it. 

Speak directly into the microphone. Avoid turning your head away while speaking as this can reduce the volume of your voice.

Timing is important

One of the most important things to remember when delivering a speech is to be concise. 

Aim to keep your speech within the allotted time frame and avoid going off on tangents or including unnecessary details. 

A good rule of thumb is around one minute of speaking time for each main point. A concise speech ensures you hold your audience's attention and drive home your key messages.

Consider what your audience wants to hear

When crafting and delivering your speech, keep your audience's needs and interests in mind. 

Research your audience beforehand, and tailor your content and delivery style to their specific needs and preferences. 

For example, if you're speaking to a group of experts in your field, you may want to use more technical language and discuss your topic in more detail. 

However, a general audience will prefer more accessible language and less jargon. Focus on the broader essence of your message and keep it straightforward.

Pick a theme and stick to it

It's important to choose a clear theme and stick to it throughout a speech to create a cohesive and memorable presentation

Avoid trying to cover too many different topics or ideas. A confusing, jumbled speech can quickly turn an audience off. 

Instead, focus on developing a single, powerful theme that ties your main points together and reinforces your overall message. 

For example, if you're giving a speech on the importance of sustainability, you might choose a theme like "Small changes, big impact.” You could use examples and anecdotes that illustrate how individual actions can contribute to a more sustainable future.

Speak slowly

When delivering your speech, it's important to speak at a pace that allows your audience to follow along and absorb your message.

Many speakers rush through their material when they're nervous, making it difficult for their audience to keep up. 

To avoid this, practice speaking at a slower, more deliberate pace. Use pauses strategically to emphasize key points or give your audience time to process what you've said. 

If you find yourself speeding up, take a deep breath and consciously slow down your delivery.

Tell a couple of jokes

Incorporating humor into your speech can be a great way to engage your audience and make your message more memorable. 

A well-placed joke or funny anecdote can break the ice, lighten the mood and create a more relaxed and receptive atmosphere. 

However, it's important to use humor carefully and ensure your jokes are appropriate and relevant to your topic. Avoid offensive or insensitive humor, and don't rely too heavily on jokes at the expense of your core message.

If telling jokes doesn’t come naturally, avoid them entirely or practice them until you sound like a seasoned comedian. 

Don't be afraid to repeat yourself if you need to

Repetition is a powerful tool in speech-making, as it reinforces your key points and makes them more memorable. 

A technique known as "the rule of three" suggests that people are more likely to remember information in groups of three. 

So don't be afraid to repeat your primary message or points throughout your speech with slightly different language or examples each time. 

Only use the visual aids you need

Visual aids, such as slides, charts or props, can reinforce your message and make your speech more engaging. 

However, it's important to only include those that are truly necessary to support your points. 

Avoid cluttering your presentation with too many slides or images, as this can detract from your overall message. 

Instead, choose a few key visuals that are clear, relevant and easy to understand. Use them strategically throughout your speech to enhance your words.

Ask for feedback

One of the best ways to improve your speech delivery is to seek feedback from others.

Consider joining a public speaking group, course or Toastmasters club to practice your skills in a supportive environment. 

You can also ask friends, colleagues or mentors to listen to your speech and provide feedback on your content, delivery and overall impact. 

Another challenge of public speaking is being aware of your body language. When certain movements feel normal, you might not realize it’s distracting for those watching. 

Ask a friend or colleague to watch you practice your speech and provide feedback on any awkward mannerisms.

They may notice that you fidget with your hands, sway back and forth or use filler words like "um" or "like" frequently. 

Becoming aware of these habits means you can work to minimize them and project a more confident, polished presence on stage.

Remember that feedback is a gift, and constructive criticism can help you grow as a speaker.

Practice regularly

The key to becoming a confident and effective public speaker is regular practice. The more you practice your speech, the more comfortable and natural you'll feel when delivering it.

Dedicate time each week to work on your public speaking skills, whether you practice a specific speech or work on general techniques like vocal projection, gestures or eye contact.

Consider recording yourself speaking and watch the video to identify areas for improvement. You can also practice your speech in front of a mirror or with a small group of friends to build your confidence.

Look around the room

When delivering your speech, it's important to make eye contact with your audience to create a sense of connection and engagement. 

However, many speakers make the mistake of focusing on just one or two people throughout their entire speech. 

To avoid this, make a conscious effort to look around the room and make eye contact with people in different sections of the audience. 

This will help you connect with a wider range of people and make your speech feel more inclusive and engaging. 

Don’t let your gaze wander aimlessly or linger too long on anyone, as this can be distracting or uncomfortable for your audience.

Overcoming fear and nervousness

One of the most effective ways to calm your nerves before and during a speech is to practice deep breathing techniques. 

Deep breathing slows down your heart rate, relaxes your muscles and calms your mind, which can help you feel more centered and focused. 

To practice deep breathing:

  1. find a quiet place where you can sit or stand comfortably,
  2. place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, 
  3. take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, 
  4. allow your belly to expand as you inhale,
  5. hold the breath for a moment, then exhale slowly through your mouth, 
  6. feel your belly fall as you release the air,
  7. repeat this process for several minutes and
  8. focus on the sensation of the breath moving in and out of your body.

How to effectively handle impromptu speeches

Impromptu speeches can be particularly nerve-wracking, as they require you to think on your feet and organize your thoughts quickly. 

To handle an impromptu speech effectively, try the following tips:

Take a moment to collect your thoughts

Before you start speaking, take a deep breath and give yourself a few seconds to gather your thoughts and choose a main point or theme to focus on.

Use a simple structure

Organize your speech into a basic structure, such as an introduction, three main points and a conclusion. This will help you stay focused and avoid rambling or getting off track.

Speak from experience

Draw on your experiences, knowledge and opinions to provide examples and anecdotes that support your main points. This will help you speak more authentically and confidently.

Embrace the unexpected

Remember that impromptu speeches are an opportunity to showcase your ability to think on your feet and adapt to new situations. Embrace the challenge and try to have fun with it.

Preparing for Q&A sessions and panel discussions

Many speeches are followed by a Q&A session or panel discussion, which can be an opportunity to engage with your audience and provide additional insights and perspectives on your topic. To prepare for these sessions, consider the following tips:

Anticipate common questions

Before your speech, brainstorm a list of questions that your audience may ask, and practice your responses. This will help you feel more prepared and confident when fielding questions.

Be concise and direct

When answering questions, aim to be concise and to the point, while still providing enough context and detail to fully address the question.

Defer to other experts

If you're part of a panel discussion, don't feel like you need to answer every question or dominate the conversation. Defer to other panelists when appropriate and build on their ideas to create a more dynamic and engaging discussion.

Stay positive and professional

Even if you receive a challenging or hostile question, try to remain positive and professional in your response. Avoid getting defensive or argumentative. Instead, focus on providing a thoughtful and measured perspective.

Examples of persuasive speeches

To help illustrate the techniques and strategies we've covered in this guide, let's take a look at a few examples of persuasive speeches that have made a lasting impact:

“The Power of Vulnerability" by Brené Brown

This popular TED Talk by researcher Brené Brown uses humor, personal stories and scientific data to argue that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness and that it's essential for building authentic connections and living a meaningful life.

"I Have a Dream" by Martin Luther King Jr.

This iconic speech, delivered during the 1963 March on Washington, is a powerful example of using rhetorical devices. King mastered the use of repetition, metaphors and emotional appeal to convey a message of hope and unity.

"The Danger of a Single Story" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In this TED Talk, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie uses personal anecdotes and storytelling to illustrate the importance of seeking out diverse perspectives and challenging stereotypes.

“Ain’t I A Woman?” by Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in 1797 and escaped from her master in 1827. She’s a prime example of an early feminist and anti-slavery speaker. In her famous speech, ”Ain’t I A Woman?” she used repetition and thought-provoking questions to highlight the poor treatment of Black women. 

"The Price of Shame" by Monica Lewinsky

In this powerful TED Talk, Monica Lewinsky draws on her own experiences with public shaming and cyberbullying to argue for a more compassionate and empathetic online culture.

The last card

Giving a speech can be challenging but rewarding. It allows you to share your ideas, inspire others and make a positive impact on the world. 

Follow the strategies and techniques outlined in this guide to become a more confident, effective and persuasive speaker. 

Remember to start by crafting a clear and compelling main message, and use body language, vocal techniques and storytelling to engage and connect with your audience. 

Practice regularly, seek feedback from others, and don't be afraid to embrace your natural nervousness and use it to your advantage.

FAQs

How do I start giving a speech?

To start giving a speech, try:

  • opening with a fun or hard-hitting fact,
  • making a joke,
  • sharing an anecdote,
  • asking the audience a question,
  • quoting someone famous and
  • setting the scene — if you’re solving a problem, tell a relatable, relevant story

What are the steps of preparing for a speech?

  1. Choose a topic you're passionate about that will resonate with your audience.
  2. Research your topic thoroughly and organize your ideas into a clear and logical structure.
  3. Craft an attention-grabbing opening to hook your audience, like a joke or hard-hitting fact.
  4. Practice your speech, focusing on your delivery, body language and vocal techniques.
  5. Seek feedback from others and continue refining your speech until you feel confident and prepared.

What are the 4 stages of giving a speech?

The four stages of giving a speech are:

  1. Preparation: Research your topic, organize ideas and craft your speech outline and content.
  2. Practice: Rehearse your speech, focusing on your delivery, body language and visual aids.
  3. Delivery: Give your speech to your audience, using the techniques and strategies you've practiced to engage and persuade them.
  4. Reflection: After your speech, reflect on what went well and what you could improve. Seek feedback from your audience or a mentor, and use that feedback to continue refining your skills.

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