Public Speaking Success Help
Introduction to Public Speaking Success
If you steal from one author, it's plagiarism. If you steal from two, it's research.
—Wilson Mizner, 1876–1933
Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope. The rest of us need to do research first. In this chapter, we'll cover the basics of doing your homework.
Research is a vital part of any speech, regardless of the topic. We've been emphasizing the importance of selecting a topic that you already know something about, but you will still need to do research even on a topic with which you are very familiar. For example, perhaps you are an avid traveler, and you've chosen the topic "How to Plan the Perfect Vacation." Even though you've traveled all over the world, you'll still need to do some research on appropriate destinations that might interest your audience, the range of airfares they might expect, what sort of accommodations will be available to them, what activities they can enjoy while there, and so forth.
This chapter outlines a variety of sources for your information, but it is not exhaustive. Many of these information sources will serve as springboards, bouncing you to some other source as you begin your research.
For now, just concern yourself with gathering information and taking notes. Be specific as you take notes, and always remember to write down where you found that information. For example, if you found some information in a book, you should write down the author, title, publisher, copyright date, and page number for that note. It is vitally important that you be able to go back to that book at a later date and find the information again.
The main rule here is to take copious notes! Anything that grabs your attention in your reading is worth noting down, even if you don't think you'll need it later. Trust me on this: I can't tell you how many times I've sat down to outline a speech or essay and half-remembered something that I'd read that suddenly becomes pertinent. If I failed to jot down a note on that item, I'm forced to retrace my steps looking for it, and that can be immensely frustrating and time-consuming.
The rule here is the opposite of our usual rule: When in doubt, don't leave it out! Interesting illustrations, anecdotes, examples, and so forth are worth including in your notes. You don't need to write down the entire quotation; just make a note that will help you find it later. For example, a magazine article might contain some facts and statistics that are interesting but not seemingly pertinent to your topic. Just jot down "statistics on thus and such" in your notes, with the page number where you found them. There's actually a good chance that you will want to find them again later, and this way you'll know where to look.
Primary Research - Direct Observation
Using Personal Experience
The best place to begin your research is with yourself. You have already chosen a topic that you know something about, so use your own experience and knowledge to start your note-taking on the topic. Ask yourself what you'd find interesting if you were to hear someone else speak on your topic. Brainstorm for interesting anecdotes and personal experiences that might work as spice in your speech.
You are actually your best source of information on your topic, and you will want to include examples of your own experience in your speech. This will show the audience that you know what you're talking about, giving you greater credibility and encouraging your audience to take an interest in what you have to say.
As you think through your topic, you will focus on two main things: information, anecdotes, and examples to use in your speech; and insight into what you don't know. This second bit of information is immensely valuable, as it will help you know what further research you need to do before you start writing. Incidentally, it will also benefit you greatly in the long run, since you will be learning even more about a topic that already interests you. This is one of the real benefits of being a public speaker: The more you speak on a topic, the more of an expert you become in that topic—and the more likely you'll be asked to speak!
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