Common Speech Situations Help
Introduction to Common Speech Situations
Eloquence is the essential thing in a speech, not information.
—Mark Twain, 1835–1910
Most of what we've been covering in the previous lessons will apply in any speech situation. However, some situations require special considerations, as we'll see in this lesson.
We tend to think of public speaking as a formal lecture given from on high before an audience that has gathered to listen. But the fact is that public speaking includes a wide variety of applications and settings, from answering a teacher's question in class to addressing the world via television. In this lesson, we'll address some of the more likely situations in which you'll be speaking publicly.
Making a Presentation
This is a very common occurrence, whether you are a student asked to present information to class, or a professional in the business world asked to provide a project update to your coworkers. You might be given some lead time for preparation, but you might just as likely find yourself called upon to speak on the spur of the moment.
Whether given advance notice or not, the goal is to appear as though you are well prepared. As we have said many times throughout these lessons, appearance is half the battle. If your audience believes you are confident in what you are saying, they will be far more likely to accept your message.
All the lessons in this book apply in this situation. If at all possible, you'll want to include visual aids to help get your ideas across. You'll want to make eye contact with your audience, and you'll want to be sure that your voice is clearly heard and understood. If you have time to prepare, you'll want to create an outline, and you'll want to expand your thoughts under several major sub-points, complete with explanations and illustrations of each.
The major asset you have in this situation is that you will probably know your audience quite well, whether they are fellow students or coworkers. This will enable you to assess how much they already know, helping you to focus on areas that will be new to them. You will also be able to gauge their reactions to your presentation, which is important in the office environment: Will they be pleased with your report, or will it produce resistance or disappointment? Knowing these things in advance will help you prepare for questions.
I live in a small town, and I attend the town hall meetings frequently. My general purpose is simply to enjoy watching, taking advantage of something that is unique to America: the freedom to participate in the political process. But there are times when I need to participate more vocally, and I find myself speaking before an audience—actually, before two audiences: the town council, and the voters.
Such public forums bring with them a few distinguishing features worth mentioning. First, you may well find yourself addressing two or more different groups of listeners, each with radically different views on your topic. My town recently went through some fairly dramatic public meetings on zoning issues, and I found myself speaking to three distinct groups: the voters, most of whom vehemently opposed the development proposal; the "interested parties" and their lawyers (those directly involved in the proposed development); and the town council, allegedly neutral and impartial on the entire subject.
You will need to be sensitive to all the groups in your audience, knowing something of each group's views on the topic and how each will likely respond to your opinions. You will also quickly recognize from what you've learned in this book that public meetings will generally involve some sort of persuasive speech, so you should review Lesson 5 on how to create an effective persuasive argument.
Yet this also impinges on another unique feature of public meetings: severely limited time. You will probably not have the luxury of spending 40 minutes to expand and develop on your thesis; you will need to present a compelling argument in less than five minutes—and most local political settings will limit speakers to three minutes at the most. This leaves you with two options: present many points in little detail (our shotgun method), or present one point in greater detail (the rifle). Either can be effective, but generally the rifle is preferred, since other speakers will likely touch upon other arguments in detail. Just remember to use the courtroom analogy when planning your words: Provide your evidence, explain how it applies to your thesis, then summarize how your one major point proves your opinion to be the right one.
Other elements of public speaking come into play in this setting, as well. Eye contact, for example, is vitally important—although you may have to focus on one body and more or less ignore the rest of your audience. You will want to connect with those who make the decisions, since they are the ones whom you're trying to persuade. Nevertheless, you will want to speak clearly and be understood by everyone present, and you will always want to be courteous and polite. This last point can be a challenge at emotionally charged public gatherings, but your views will be far more attractive if you are polite.
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