Preparing to Speak Publicly Help

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011

Introduction to Preparing to Speak Publicly

Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel. It is to bring another out of his bad sense into your good sense.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803–1882

In this lesson, we will consider the most important element of your upcoming speech: the audience. We will also consider several other factors, such as the setting where you'll be speaking.

Before you get up in front of an audience to give a speech, you must first answer these two fundamental questions: Who am I speaking to? Why am I speaking to them? The answer to these questions will determine everything about your upcoming speech, including preparation, content, and delivery.

Perhaps you are making a public speech because you are a student in a public speaking class. If that is the case, then your reason for speaking is that you want to succeed as a student. This situation will also define who your audience is: the other students in your class and the professor who is teaching you. Clearly, in this situation, you will want your speech to please the professor, since your final grade will depend upon your performance. However, don't let your desire for a good grade stymie your individual expression. If you follow the advice in this book on crafting and delivering a good, true, and powerful speech, your skills will shine through and you will get the grade you deserve.

Perhaps you are getting ready to speak publicly because you have been asked to do so—making a toast at a friend's wedding, or addressing the members of a church or civic group of which you're a member. Once again, your audience will be clearly defined: the bride, groom, and guests at the wedding, or your fellow members of the church or organization. And once again, you will want your speech to be well received by your audience—you will want to encourage the wedding party or connect with your fellow members on a topic that is of mutual interest.

As you can see, answering the who and why questions also answers a number of secondary questions:

  • What is an appropriate topic?
  • How long should you speak?
  • What tone should you set?

Each of these questions also needs to be answered, which you will see as we go along, but the first and most fundamental questions are who and why. Understanding your own motivation for speaking publicly will help you to work through the anxiety that is natural to experience when getting up in front of an audience, and knowing who will be listening will help you anticipate their response. When you feel anxious about your speech, you will be able to focus all that nervous energy on why you are putting yourself through such an ordeal, and use it to your benefit.

Dealing with Anxiety

As you begin preparing to speak publicly, it is also important to know another fundamental fact: Everyone gets nervous about speaking publicly! In fact, most people list public speaking as one of their biggest fears in life, even people who do it professionally. You've probably seen speeches made by people who do it on a regular basis, such as politicians, and thought that they were perfectly poised and not the least bit nervous. But if you were to ask those people if they'd been nervous beforehand, they would quickly assure you that they'd experienced all the butterflies and jitters that you're feeling about your upcoming speech.

We will deal more fully in Lesson 16 with the techniques you can use to turn anxiety into an asset, but for now it's only important for you to know that anxiety is completely normal. The best way to deal with it is to use the energy of your anxiety to produce a good speech—and then you'll have nothing to be anxious about. The first steps to producing a good speech involve laying a solid foundation for it by analyzing who will be in the audience, deciding what you'll be discussing, and visualizing the actual setting of the event.

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