It could be a small group of classmates or a room full of complete strangers - speaking in public can be daunting even when you're passionate about your cause. But there are a number of things you can do to relax and deliver a great speech.
Prepare in advance
If you’ve done the research you'll be more prepared and less nervous. People who are confident when they talk generally know their topic back to front. Research can also help you field questions from your audience.
Look into who’ll be listening to your speech, and do some research on their background. This way, you can tailor your presentation and make sure you use the most appropriate style and tone. For example, you wouldn’t speak to your classmates the same way you would speak to a teacher or a faculty head.
Think about the affect that you want to have on your audience. For example, do you want them to feel:
- Inspired by the efforts of another who has successfully campaigned on an issue
- Compelled to change their own behaviour when they hear about a dire environmental situation
- Motivated to give a donation or attend an event in support of a cause
Visit our Do the research page for more advice on preparation.
Structure your speech
Most speeches will have three parts:
To start, introduce yourself, the issue and the contents of your speech. This is your chance to set up the context and engage people. Try opening with an interesting fact, anecdote or statistic. Remember to address the audience and thank them for the opportunity to speak.
This is the 'meat' of your speech. Make sure you've covered everything you promised in the introduction.
- Be as clear and succinct as possible
- Structure the speech around a number of key points and associated plans or actions
- Spell out exactly what needs to be done, who can do it, and when it needs to happen
- Consider including information on what will happen if no action is taken
If the information is a bit dry, think about how it could be told through a story. A moving and relevant story will stay with the audience long after you have finished your speech.
Hopefully, by this stage you’ll have them eating from your hand.
- Sum up the main points in your speech.
- Repeat the plan of action.
- Give information about contacting yourself or your group.
- Thank the audience again for their attention.
If you have time to answer some questions, mention this at the end of your speech.
Pick the right tone
The tone of your voice when you deliver you speech is just as important as the words you are saying.
- An aggressive tone may upset people and turn them away.
- A calm voice and assertive manner will make it easier to listen to your speech.
- A light hearted and joking approach to a serious or sad subject can stop people from taking you seriously.
Sometimes people can talk too fast or too slow. It doesn’t matter so much when you’re having a conversation with your mates. But a room full of strangers is less likely to even try to listen to your message if they can’t hear you properly.
Do a dry run
Keep the tone and pace of your speech on target by rehearsing in front of a small group of friends. Let them give you some feedback on what you did well and what they think you could improve. If you’re going to use visual aids or other technology make sure you try a test run with them. This will improve your confidence when you do the real thing.
Use technology and visuals
Get your point across and entertain your audience by using images, diagrams, sound and video. To do this, you’ll probably need the help of some technology. Consider:
- Powerpoint presentations
- Overhead slides
- Digital photographs
- Audio clips
There are also some general tips for using technology:
- Make sure you know it works in advance
- Have a back up plan if it doesn’t go as expected
- Don’t just sit back and look at the pictures - summarise what you are showing the audience
- Keep visuals simple and easy to understand
- Talk to the audience and not to the technology
- Don’t over do it - the focus should still be on the messages in your speech
Get ready for questions
You have no idea what people could ask, so this can be a nerve-wracking time. But there are few things you can do to prepare:
- List the types of questions that could be asked and prepare answers for them (especially the hard ones)
- Know your facts and the source of any statistics you mention in your speech
- Respond to every question with confidence and stay as calm as possible
- Repeat or rephrase the question so you’re clear on what they’ve asked. For example ‘You are wondering why X is the situation ?’
- Direct your answers to the whole audience and not just the person who asked the question
- Even if you disagree, don't dismiss the question. For example- 'I understand what you are saying, however in my experience...'
Remember to relax and enjoy
As hard as this sounds, remember that you're up there speaking about a cause and an issue that you really believe in. Now you have the chance to tell others about it. Even if you make a mistake, don't worry. If you're relaxed and positive you'll still get your message across.
Participating as an audience member
Many of the tips above will also help you participate in an open discussion. However here a few more things to think about when you want to ask a question.
Think about what you say before you say it.
- If it's possible to prepare in advance, research the topic thoroughly and think about potential questions
- When given the opportunity to speak, introduce yourself to the speaker and the audience and then ask your question promptly
- Use a clear voice and be concise about what you are asking the speaker to respond to.