Common Speech Situations Help (page 2)
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.
Personal and Professional Public Speaking Situations
Weddings, funerals, birthdays, awards ceremonies, graduations, religious observances, extended family gatherings—they're all part of our lives, and sooner or later we all have to "share a few words" at one or another. You may know in advance that you'll be called upon to speak, or you might be asked spontaneously—but the end result is the same: Appear as though you are prepared, and appear as though you didn't prepare in advance.
You'll need to do this, of course, by preparing in advance! As we've said previously, the best way to approach such occasions is to think through what you'll want to say if asked, jotting some notes on an index card so you don't forget. Structure your thoughts to be suitable to the occasion and the time limit. Most special occasions will require some brief comments, limited perhaps to five minutes or less. This is probably not a time to expound in detail on some lengthy topic, nor is it an occasion for persuading your audience on some controversial issue. Keep your thoughts focused on the occasion, and keep them brief. Remember our fundamental rule for special occasions: The audience is there to honor the occasion, not to hear you speak.
Perhaps it's time for a raise, but your company has recently been laying off employees. Or perhaps you need to confront the directors of a civic organization concerning policies that have affected you. Maybe you need to make a class presentation that disagrees with the professor's viewpoints. Life is filled with stress and confrontation, but a skillful public speaker can easily carry the day.
Confrontation naturally breeds hostility, and the most important element of your presentation will be your demeanor. You will want to present a solid case, but you'll need to do it with humility and courtesy. If you come into the room with an arrogant air of self-righteousness, you'll lose your audience before you even begin.
For example, you might feel that your work responsibilities have grown far beyond your job description due to the recent layoffs. Don't approach your boss with an air of grievance or resentment; put yourself in his or her position and recognize that your boss has also been affected by the present crisis. Present your facts and requests, but also remember to acknowledge the difficulty of the situation, and do not place the blame on your audience. Create an atmosphere of team cooperation, and your boss will be more likely to join your side.
Finally, you will want to anticipate your audience's counterpoints. It is not enough simply to build a persuasive argument; you need to anticipate how your listeners will argue against your thesis. This follows the methods on handling questions from the audience, except that in this situation your entire effectiveness will depend upon how well you address those questions. This form of public speaking actually comes closer to debate than to making a speech, and you will need to prepare yourself to present counterarguments to their counterarguments. If you can't answer any question or argument that might be thrown at you, you aren't ready to make your presentation.
Common Speech Situations Practice
Use this questionnaire to outline your presentation:
- What is the main purpose of this speech occasion? How does this purpose influence what I will say?
- What is my time limit?
- Who is my audience?
- What is the occasion?
- Honorific (honoring someone; skip to question 9)
- Memorial (eulogizing someone; skip to question 9)
- Introductory (introducing someone; skip to question 9)
- Public meeting
- Group presentation
- If my audience will be several groups of opponents, which group will I focus on?
- What is my thesis?
- What aspect of my thesis will I expound in detail?
- What illustrations and examples will I provide? (Skip questions 9–10.)
- What story can I relate that is pertinent to the occasion?
- What is the one thing I want my audience to remember about this occasion?
Today on Education.com
- Coats and Car Seats: A Lethal Combination?
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- Child Development Theories
- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- First Grade Sight Words List
- Social Cognitive Theory
- The Homework Debate
- GED Math Practice Test 1