by Alisha Johnson
There will be at least one instance in everyoneís life when he or she will have to deliver a public address in one form or another. Whether it be an official speech to the local legislature, a eulogy, or a wedding toast, there is one aspect that is absolutely necessary to a successful speech, confidence. How does one acquire the confidence necessary to speaking well? One must, first of all, be prepared, second, one must practice, and third, one must have energy. If all of these things are followed, even if a person is nervous during the speech, he or she will be successful.
Preparation is central to a speech. If one is not prepared to give a speech, how can one give a speech, let alone a good one? Preparation requires research, which leads to knowledge about whatever is being spoken about. Going before the governor in the state capital and saying that marijuana should be legalized because "it will help all of the bad and mean people in the world cool out man" with a long history of pot smoking and a bong hit just five minutes prior as the only research under your belt is not good enough. Sure, the speaker will be confident, that is, until he gets thrown out on the steps of the building. How would it look if someone were giving a eulogy and listed a series of incorrect attributes, such as "humorous" and "light-hearted" of someone who was "dour" and "serious"? Or stated facts about the past of the deceased, such as the time he made the winning touchdown for Georgetown in the championship game, when the dearly departed in fact went to Stanford and played in the marching band? This, needless to say, would not go over well. What if an advertising executive were giving a sales pitch to a big lingerie company and misquoted statistics or simply knew nothing about womanís underwear? He could try to give a persuasive argument as to why having a Victoriaís Secret model on the hood of a muscle car would be an effective marketing tactic, but it is doubtful that he would land the account. In order to feel as if you can give an effective, and if necessary, persuasive speech you must be confident in the knowledge you have on your subject. This knowledge comes only from adequate, and well-rounded research. You cannot research just one aspect of your topic, but must take a holistic approach to the knowledge you seek.
Once you have "mastered" the topic, you can prepare yourself for whatever sort of audience you may encounter. Research requires not only knowing your subject, and well, but also knowing your audience. Knowledge and facts are adaptable. Knowing who you are speaking to and what it is that will hold their attention is a natural step in preparing. If you are sufficiently knowledgeable and sufficiently intelligent, you can easily use your wealth of information to your advantage. Some audiences are easier to prepare for simply by the nature of the speech. For example, a eulogy is not a festive event. You wonít need to be pacing around the podium and trying to rile up the audience in general (unless youíre at a black Baptist funeral-but, hopefully, you would know what you were getting into before hand-"can I get an amen?!?"). Other times, you will need to research your audience. This may require something as simple as observation or following social cues, or it might involve actual demographic information. Either way, if you go into the situation knowing what youíre talking about and who you are talking to-just prepared in general-you will be ten times more confident than if you had not done one or both of these.
Practice, practice, practice. Can I ever say this enough? Letís just use our examples. A eulogy: how convinced are the people going to be that you really feel a genuine loss for the departed, one that would grant you worthy of eulogizing his death, if you are reading off of note cards? Now this is an extreme example, since typically these things come from the heart, but in one sense it is a formal affair and the speaker must have some idea about what he or she is going to say. This will prove helpful when a flood of emotion does take over. Giving a toast at a wedding as the best man is a big responsibility. Saying "I wish you guys all the happiness in the world", although acceptable (because itís already been done a million times) is not all that charming and witty. Imagine what a couple of quick mental run-throughs would do for that best man. If he is single, heíll probably have a heck of a better time at the reception with all of the lovely single young ladies when they see how well versed and charming he can be. When I say practice, I donít mean that Mr. "Legalize It" should smoke as much pot as often as he can to memorize the positive effects (go back to the first tip son). When you practice a speech, you have to take the information, which you should have compiled by now, and create an outline. This doesnít have to be a strict structure, but it is all part of preparing, that is, knowing what you are talking about. Now this outline is your road map to where the speech is going to take you. How are you going to get that speech off of the paper and into your mind? By practicing it. Why donít you want to read your speech? Picture it, you are voluntarily sitting in a lecture about the merits and deficiencies of X (pick a potentially boring subject). Scenario one, the speaker is reading the speech and rarely looks up from the podium. When she does look up itís only briefly, and it is very mechanical, and when she returns to the text she gets flustered and stutters back into the same drab pace. Scenario two, the speaker has her speech memorized, or at least well rehearsed. She knows what she is going to say and when it needs to be said. She makes eye contact and there is room for a spontaneous joke or observation about the current audience. I donít know about you, but I would probably wait out the question and answer session of the second speech and I probably would have politely ditched the first. Now both speakers may have given the same speech, but there is a definite difference between talking at the audience and talking to the audience. This difference is practice, which of course comes from preparation.
This brings me to my final tip. ENERGY!!! WOO, YEAH! Ok, now every speech is not meant to be a pep rally. However, energy is key to every speech. What on earth do I mean when I say "energy"? I mean presence. You are not just there delivering a speech because thatís where your body happens to be at the time. YOU ARE THERE. Hey, if your body has to be there, why not invite your heart and mind along too? Why are you giving the speech in the first place? Hopefully because itís about something you care about. If you are just giving the speech for a grade, hey isnít that motivation enough? An A can make me care a lot more than a C. Being involved in your speech not only makes it more interesting for the audience to watch, but it makes it more interesting for you to give. Itís not such a hard thing actually. This is where you can turn your nervous jitters into a positive and engrossing experience. Once you start an upbeat or involving tempo it feeds off of itself. Youíre already jittery, run with it. No matter the reason why you are giving the speech, the last thing you want to see is sleepers in the audience, or worse yet, start nodding yourself. Get into it!
And so, hopefully these tips will help you to give a more effective speech. If you do these things you cannot help but be confident about your content and delivery-hey, thatís confidence on every front. The only problem youíll really have to deal with is people whispering out of the side of their mouths about what a "know-it-all" you are and how confident you are (as if thatís a bad thing). You may have to deal with giving a few autographs afterwards, but you will be so confident at that point that it wonít really be a surprise. Obviously your speech was good; you knew what you were talking about because you prepared. You spoke well and appropriately to your audience, because you prepared. And you were able to be effectively spontaneous, just a matter of a little practice of the basic points. Finally, you exuded presence. No one fell asleep while you were speaking. Damn, youíre good.
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Questions or Comments? Send mail to Jim Hanson at firstname.lastname@example.org.