Speech Tips and Pointers

Revised 24 December 1996

NOTE: Though each tip has been modified for this type of speech, some (if not most) of this advice is also on my impromptu speech advice page. Look for the dancing 7-Up Spot Dude for the information specific to this page. (NOTE NOTE: 7-Up spot dude is a tribute to longtime friend, Devin Scott. The importance of the 7-Up Spot Dude in our lives is an interesting story if you care to hear it.)

In preparing any speech, the generic first step is to brainstorm on your chosen topic. When you have finished brainstorming go back over your list of thoughts and try to find natural groupings for different thoughts. (Examples will follow). If sufficiently important for your speech, these groupings will be the main points of your speech. Keeping groups together in your speech is important as it will maintain the flow and structure of the speech. It also helps you as the speaker to remain calm, because your thoughts will flow more easily if you have grouped your ideas correctly. It is almost always best not to have similar thoughts scattered throughout a speech. The exception to this is using a single thread-topic to bind together seemingly different points in your speech. The other exception is if you are doing a speech on entropy or randomness. ;-)

If there is time to cover more than one group, be sure to order the groups such that they flow into each other. Here is an example of some possible grouping on a speech about jet engines. One is better than the other (in my opinion). Which one?

First subject Second subject Third subject
Purpose of jet engines Design of jet engines Important figures in jet engine design
Important figures in jet engine design Purpose of jet engines Design of jet engines

I feel that the first of the above examples would be the best, and here is my reasoning . . . . Your topic is not engineers, it is jet engines. You may think that it is important to talk about the people involved in jet engine research, and you would be absolutely correct. Remember though, that you have a limited amount of time to deliver your speech. You don't want to get the "time's up" signal while you are only halfway through the jet engine design portion of your speech because you spent too long talking about a bunch of engineers! Or, if your speech does not have a specific time limit, you don't want to make your speech so long that your audience starts to fall asleep on you.

Use humor in your speech, but not too much. A funny remark at the beginning of a speech is a good way to relieve. Keep in mind that not using a joke is better than using a bad joke though.

If writing a speech for a class or competition, tweak your topic in a way the judges won't expect, while remaining within the bounds of the speech topic. For example, say you are given the topic: "Who has the had the biggest impact on your life?" (This would more likely be an interview question of course, and the same advice holds there too.) Instead of talking about how great your mom and dad are, or how your idol inspires you to greatness, talk about how a loathsome individual you know positively impacts your life because you don't want to become like that person. In short, LOOK AT LIFE FROM DIFFERENT ANGLES!!! This holds true in life as well.

This advise only holds true for certain types of speeches, but demonstrate a broad based knowledge. Make your speech interdisciplinary, drawing from history, geography, science, literature, etc. If you can tie one topic to a variety of study areas, the judges will know that you are knowledgeable about your subject. You can also impress your judges/audience if you happen to hit upon one of the disciplines that they are particularly keen on. The person will think 'Hey! He talked about Joe Schmoe! I love Joe Schmoe!" Two words: Brownie points . . .

Avoid saying "I believe" and "in my opinion". You should present your speech as factually as possible. Even an emotion-type speech should be presented without using the two aforementioned statements. In such a case, present your speech as a possible opinion, not your opinion.

If opinion enters into your topic, try to cite the opinion of respected persons in the speech rather than your own opinion. For example, tell the judges something that Bill Gates said concerning censorship on the internet.

Do not begin your speech with, "The topic I am going to talk about today is . . ." or any phrase like it. Instead, say something like, "The issue of censorship of the internet is one that is causing a great rift in society." This tells the audience what your topic is without being cliché.

When practicing the delivery of your speeches (always recommended), record your speech. An audio recording will suffice, but a video recording is better. Many times, we don't realize that we are making speech faux pas such as saying "um", "er", "like", and so forth. (Therein lies my own weakness.) Such mistakes will slap you in the face when listening to your own speech, and will make it easier for you to correct those mistakes. Video recording has the added advantage of revealing any physical mistakes such as hands in pockets, rocking, etc.

One thing that comes to mind for non-impromptu style speeches, is to start thinking about the speech the moment you know you have to prepare one. Here's what works for me . . . As soon as I know the topic of my speech, I just think about it in various spare moments during the days/weeks prior to giving the speech. I never write anything down during this period (though sometimes I feel that I should). Whether or not you write down your thoughts during this portion of the speech process should be at the discretion of the individual. I always just trust that the good stuff will come back to me when I actually sit down to write my speech. (Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't.) By the time I do sit down to actually write the speech, I already have the general outline, and many individual segments of the speech already done in my head. The writing portion is just to solidify the speech and make it easier to practice. Generally, by the time I have written the speech, I know it so well that I hardly need to practice. By using this method, I find that I am much more comfortable speaking in front of an audience. I am merely repeating what I know to others rather than trying to remember what I read in a book last night.

Related to the previous tip, is the advice not to use cue cards. Cue cards are often more distracting than helpful. They are a crutch you should try to avoid at all costs. It is a fact of life that people get nervous and forgetful in front of an audience, so it is understandable to use cue cards, but it is certainly better (and more impressive) if you can talk to your audience without having cue cards. It conveys the message that you are very knowledgeable about your topic, and that you are comfortable with the audience. I find that cue cards only make the situation worse if I get off track. I look down at the cards trying to figure out where the hell I am, and I get flustered. The speech usually goes down hill from there. In short KNOW YOUR SPEECH!!!

And once again, related to the previous tip . . . Odds are that you will be more knowledgeable about your chosen topic than anyone else in the room (certain scientific talks loom up in my mind to demonstrate the contrary however). Just remember that you know more about your topic than the audience does. After all, you've done the research!! That doesn't mean you shouldn't expect pointed questions that you don't know the answers to, but those questions will be rare. This advice isn't really helpful for writing or preparing a speech, it might help you maintain control when delivering your speech.

Always dress nicely when giving a speech. Remember, the image is as important as the speech itself. Present a nice, calm image, and the audience will respond better to your message. In actuality, looking nice isn't so as helpful as simply not looking bad. In other words, being dressed up is less of a factor in presenting a good image than not wearing tattered clothes. There may well be a time in your life when you have to present a speech on a moments notice. If you are not dressed for the occasion, there isn't much you can do but explain this to your audience. They will likely understand, and sympathize.

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