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Public Speaking Success Preparation Help

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011

Introduction to Public Speaking Success Preparation

That speech is most worth listening to which has been carefully prepared in private and tried on a plaster cast, or an empty chair, or any other appreciative object that will keep quiet, until the speaker has got his matter and his delivery limbered up so that they will seem impromptu to an audience.

—Mark Twain, 1835–1910

No good speech is truly given off the cuff without some advance thought—but the best ones appear that way. In this lesson, we will consider the four major methods of speech delivery, noting the best uses of each.

The most common source of anxiety for those speaking publicly is the fear that they will get up front and suddenly go blank, forgetting everything they had planned to say. This fear is probably as common as dreaming that you are out in public without your pants—and it has about the same likelihood of actually happening in real life.

All the same, you can vastly alleviate those anxieties by the simple expedient of being well-prepared, knowing that you will not forget your words because you have taken vigorous steps to prevent that from happening. The truth is that unless you are giving an impromptu speech, you will have spent vast amounts of time researching and preparing your speech. The next step, then, is to decide how you will deliver it.

There are four common methods for delivering a speech:

  • Reading from a manuscript
  • Memorization
  • Extemporaneous
  • Impromptu

Reading from a Manuscript

The best and surest way to guarantee that you won't forget your speech is to write it down, word for word, and then read it back to your audience. This will certainly alleviate your anxiety—but it will also make a dreadfully dull speech.

You may have endured a teacher or professor who reads his lectures verbatim. If so, you have no doubt heard students remark, "Why doesn't he just give us all a copy of his lectures and let us read them ourselves?" This is precisely the response that you can expect from your audience if you should choose to read a fully written speech.

Having said that, there are undeniably occasions where it is best to read a written speech. Politicians, for example, do this on a regular basis (or else they memorize them, which we'll discuss in a moment) because it ensures that their wording is carefully crafted to avoid saying the wrong thing, or saying the right thing the wrong way. If you find yourself forced to read a pre-written speech, follow these guidelines:

  • Practice it—repeatedly.Read it aloud with a red pen in hand, and notice any area where the writing does not flow smoothly when spoken. Reword that passage immediately—out loud—until it seems like something you'd say naturally; then write down the new wording.
  • Do not stare fixedly at your manuscript.Practice looking up frequently, making eye contact with your audience. Do this especially at the ends of sentences and paragraphs.
  • Do not speak in monotone.Vary the pitch of your voice, just as you would in normal speech. This does take some practice to make it sound natural, but you're going to practice repeatedly anyway.
  • Use a marker or finger to keep your place.When I've been forced to give a speech from a manuscript, I've used a six-inch ruler, which I slide down the page as I go along. This is very unobtrusive, and it underlines the entire sentence on the page. You could also use your finger to mark each successive line of text as you go.
  • Design the page for easy reading.I do this when I speak from an outline (my usual method), and it's even more important when reading verbatim. Double-space your text, using a large font that is easy to read. Double-space between paragraphs (four spaces total) rather than indenting. Do not break pages mid-paragraph; force a page break at the beginning of a paragraph, even if the previous page comes up short.
  • Use normal gestures and movement.This is where a manuscript can get tricky, because it naturally glues you to the podium. Yet motion and gestures are vitally important to keeping your audience's attention, as we'll discuss more fully in a later lesson, so you'll want to practice reading the manuscript as though you were speaking naturally. This includes hand gestures from time to time, which means that you could potentially lose your place if you're using a finger—which is another good reason for finding a suitable marker like a ruler.
  • Practice it—repeatedly.Just in case you forgot this crucial step.
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