Thanks to the innovations in technology, including that used in schools today, most students have had the opportunity to view professional speeches, such as those given by the U.S. President. Presidents throughout history have given speeches in a similar manner, as have other public figures including lawyers, conference speakers, and even educators and writers. Regardless of the content, the delivery of these speeches is almost always the same. Unfortunately, such examples are typically some of the poorest speeches in terms of delivery. Learning the correct method of delivery will allow students to present excellent speeches.
The biggest mistake
Most public figures who give speeches make the biggest mistake a presenter can make: they read the speech. A speech should be extemporaneous, not read. An excellent speech is delivered so the audience feels as if the speaker is having an intelligent conversation with them about the topic, not reading to them as if they were still in kindergarten.
Preventing a speaker from reading a speech depends largely upon the preparation. When writing the speech, only two sections may be written in complete sentence form: the introduction and conclusion. These parts of the speech are supposed to get the reader’s interest and summarize the point, respectively. The language used in them might be difficult to put in more conversational terms, so they might be written down. The other points in the excellent speech, however, should be single words or short phrases. There should be just enough there to remind the speaker of the ideas to discuss.
For instance, I recently gave a speech to a local women’s group about women’s empowerment. The introduction was a brief story about my grandmother. I related how my grandfather had recently died, and while that was difficult for everyone in my family to deal with, a further complication was trying to help my grandmother after his passing. She didn’t know if he had life insurance, she didn’t know where such papers might be, she didn’t know if his death would affect her future income-she didn’t even know where the daily bills were kept and details about them, like if the electric bill had been paid.
The body of the paper was made up of points in an outline, although bullets might work just as well for some speakers. The points were reminders of ideas about how women could empower themselves. They included terms like education, civic responsibilities, and career. Within the topic of career, for instance, I talked about how important it was for women to aim for male-dominated industries if they desired, not letting the overwhelming male presence discourage them. I talked about how they should pursue workplace issues such as unequal pay for equal work and sexual harassment. I talked about how important child rearing was, and that choosing to be a stay-at-home mom was an important career too, as long as it was the woman’s choice. So beneath the topic of career, I had the terms male industries, workplace issues (with equal pay and harassment being terms beneath it), and mothers. These terms were enough to remind me what I wanted to say.
Then for the conclusion, I returned to my grandmother. I pointed out that while women have come a long way from her generation, there are more hurdles to jump, and women need to stop being passive and start empowering themselves.
Then I practiced, which is the next important step in delivering an excellent speech. The speaker must be comfortable enough with the information to create that conversational tone. The terms are there to remind the reader what to say, so the ideas must already be in the speaker’s mind.
Halfway doesn’t cut it
Some students think that writing out a speech and then memorizing it word-for-word will make it excellent. This method has almost the same effect as reading the paper, however; the only difference is that it is easier to maintain eye contact with the audience.
Hope for the future?
Perhaps the day will come that speakers in the media will practice good delivery techniques and start becoming excellent models for students. In the meantime, hopefully instructors will continue to focus on teaching students to avoid reading speeches, and hopefully students will take such instruction to heart.