Public Speaking Success Help (page 3)
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!
Interviewing Other People
As you spend time thinking through your topic, mining yourself for experiences and information, you will probably think of friends and associates who share your interest in that field. This will naturally occur when you discover a gap in your knowledge; you will instinctively think, "I bet Bill would know the answer to that!"
When that happens, get on the phone immediately and tell your friend that you're speaking on a topic of mutual interest. Don't restrict your conversation to simply answering your question, but ask your friend what he or she would focus on if he or she were speaking on that topic. This will invariably bring up some facet of your topic that you hadn't thought of, and you and your friend can then brainstorm on what information you might cover if you touched on that aspect.
You can also interview people who are experts in some aspect of your topic. Let's return to our previous example, "How to Plan the Perfect Vacation." You could call a travel agency and ask to spend a few minutes with a travel agent discussing ideal locations for vacationers on a budget. The travel agent might know someone who conducts tour groups to London or the Holy Land, and you could then set up an interview with that person—and that person might point you to yet another expert to interview.
Be sure, as always, to take notes while speaking to experts and friends. Remember also to note the person's full name and title, plus the date when you spoke. You might also consider recording the interview if you have a small tape or digital recorder. Here are some basic things to remember as you set up interviews with experts:
- Be prepared: Have a series of questions in mind before you even make the interview appointment. Also, make sure that your questions can't be answered by some simple research. Nobody likes being asked questions that are basic common sense.
- Be courteous: Remember that the person you're interviewing has a busy schedule and has made time for you out of courtesy. Return the favor by being polite and professional.
- Be prompt: Arrive early for your appointment, and get right down to business rather than chatting about unrelated topics. When the interview is completed, thank the expert and leave.
- Be thorough: This interview may be your only opportunity to speak with the expert, so make sure that you understand the information that he or she is sharing. Even if you use a tape recorder, take notes while the expert speaks. Reiterate some of his or her points to ensure that you correctly understood what was said.
Secondary Research - Using the Internet and Library
Using the Internet Responsibly
The Internet is a good place to start your further research, but bear in mind that it is just that: a place to start. You can find a vast array of information on practically any topic simply by typing the topic into a search site such as Google or Yahoo!, and some of the information might be very detailed. The problem is that there is very little accountability for what people post on the Internet. Anyone can create a website and then wax eloquent on any topic whatsoever—regardless of whether or not that person knows anything about that topic.
You will want to use Internet information to gain a broad overview of a topic and to find sources of more detailed and reliable information in books and periodicals. Use the Internet as your first stop, and then plan on heading to the library.
Here are a few good starting points for Internet research:
- Search sites: Each search site will bring up a slightly different blend of hits on any given search—as well as a good deal of overlap. Try searching for the same topic on Google, Yahoo!, Ask.com, and Answers.com.
- Encyclopedias: Back before computers, the natural first step in any research was to consult an encyclopedia, usually a multivolume collection such as the Encyclopedia Britannica. Today, one's first stop might be an online encyclopedia such as Wikipedia. Bear in mind, however, that entries on such sites can be written by anyone, whether or not that person has any depth of knowledge on the subject. Some other online encyclopedias include Encyclopedia Britannica (Britannica.com), Encyclopedia.com, MSN Encarta (Encarta.MSN.com), and Library Spot (LibrarySpot.com).
- Web rings: A web ring is actually a list of websites that are devoted to any particular topic. If your topic is landscape photography, do a search for "landscape photography web rings" and you'll bring up a long list. (Note that web ring can be spelled as one word or two.) Click on a web ring link, and it will bring up a list of links to specific sites on that topic.
- Online bookstores: An excellent way to find sources of information is to find out what's been written on that topic—and this is a natural precursor to your library visit, as well. You don't need to buy any books; you can simply find out which titles best meet your needs. Some sites to search would include Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Abe Books (AbeBooks.com, specializing in out-of-print books).
- Library online catalogs: Finally, before actually visiting a library, spend some time on an online library catalog. Most states have their public libraries connected in an interlibrary loan program, and most local libraries have a website with a link to the state's library catalog. You can do a search for books by subject, browse through titles, and request that specific books be sent to the library nearest you.
Visiting the Library
Your greatest and most reliable source of information will be at your local library. As already mentioned, most states these days have interconnected their local public libraries into a book-sharing system, which means that the entire collection of every library in your state is available to you—without having to travel!
Begin your library research by finding your state's interlibrary loan website, then search through their catalog by subject. You can then request any books be sent to the library nearest you; when you're done with those books, simply return them to the same library. (This process may require that you have a library card at a member library in your state. If you don't already have a library card, get one! You'll use it for the rest of your life.)
Next, you'll want to visit your local library in person, because many of their most valuable research tools cannot be taken home. The first and most valuable of these resources is the librarians themselves! These are the people who spend their professional lives immersed in books, and they possess a vast breadth of knowledge. In fact, many larger libraries have personnel who specialize in research, known as research librarians. Ask these experts to point you toward materials on your topic, and you'll save a great deal of time.
Following are some of the vast resources that you'll find at your local library.
Books are the best source of in-depth and detailed information on any topic you can think of. They will cover your topic in far greater detail than any website or periodical, simply because books have more space devoted to the subject than websites or periodicals can conveniently afford.
Another important feature of books is that you (and your audience) can refer to them at a later date. Websites can change or disappear overnight, but that book will be on your library shelves for years to come.
Finally, books will address many aspects of your topic, enabling you to refine your speech. If you want to speak on horses, there will be books available that discuss the care and feeding of horses, how to raise riding horses, how to breed racehorses, the history of domesticated horses, what equipment is used to train horses—and, of course, books on horses in general. Simply browsing along a library shelf can give you valuable ideas on how to narrow your topic.
Periodicals include magazines, trade journals, academic journals, newspapers, and many other publications that come out periodically. These are a valuable resource for information that needs to be up to date. If you're speaking on healthcare issues, for example, you'll certainly want to investigate books on the subject—but you'll also want to consult relevant periodicals to gather some recent facts and statistics.
You'll quickly discover that there is a whole world of periodicals in print, and simply browsing through your library's periodicals section will prove overwhelming. The best method is to consult the library's best resource, as previously discussed: the librarian. This is especially true if your library has a dedicated research librarian, because that person is familiar with the immense selection of periodicals on file, and can quickly direct you to the best sources.
The librarian will also be able to direct you to indexes and search engines that are specifically dedicated to periodicals, known as periodical indexes. These indexes are generally computerized to make search faster and easier. (Your state library might even have a periodical index available on its interlibrary website.) They are up-to-date listings of thousands of periodicals that work just like a library card catalog, permitting you to do a search by subject to find out which issues of what publications had articles on that topic. Some of the most commonly used periodicals indexes are the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, the Social Sciences Index, the Humanities Index, and the Education Index.
Remember: When in doubt, ask a librarian.
Microfilm and Microfiche
Many periodicals, such as newspapers, make their back issues available in micro-formats. Microfilm and microfiche are miniature photocopies of each page in a periodical, and they utilize special viewing machines that magnify those pages and even allow you to print them out. In this way, libraries can retain newspapers and other periodicals indefinitely, allowing you to read the current events of last century.
This can be especially useful if you want to discuss a certain trend in your speech. Returning to our horses example, you might want to discuss how horse racing has changed in the last 50 years. You might find it useful to consult periodicals from 50 years ago to see what was being written about the subject, and you'd find those periodicals available in microfilm format.
I mentioned encyclopedias in connection with their modern online equivalents, but those books are still printed today as well. Your local library will be well stocked with an array of reference books that will prove invaluable in your research. Here are just a few examples:
- books of quotations
- yearbooks and date books
- indexes and cross-indexes
- government documents
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at: Public Speaking Success Practice.
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