Preparing to Speak Publicly Help (page 2)
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.
At this point in your speechmaking, you may feel as though your public speaking engagement is going to be centered on you. After all, you'll be the one standing up in the front, and you'll be the one doing all the talking. But the truth is that your speech will not be centered around you; you will not be speaking for your own benefit, but for the benefit of your audience. It seems incongruous, but public speaking is an art that is centered on the audience, not on the person giving the speech.
Therefore, it will be important for you to know who will be in the audience when you give your talk. Returning to our previous example, if your speech is to be part of a college class on public speaking, your audience will consist of your fellow classmates and your teacher, and it will be in your best interests to tailor your speech to that audience—since at least one member of the audience will be grading your performance!
Analyzing your audience is usually a fairly simple procedure. If you're speaking to a church or civic group, for example, you are probably already a member of that group and know many of the people in the audience. Even if you have been invited to speak to a group of which you are not a member, you can still gain some basic information on the audience by learning what draws them together. A medical conference will probably be attended by medical professionals, for example, and what draws them together is their mutual interest in medical and health issues. You could safely conclude that such an audience would be filled with well-educated professionals, and they would most likely be interested in a speech that addressed some aspect of health and medicine. A civic group such as the local Lions Club or Rotary Club will be made up of a more diverse audience in terms of education and professional background, but they will all be drawn together in a common interest of serving the local community. In that case, you would want to address a topic related to community service.
If you should find yourself speaking to an audience with whom you are completely unfamiliar, you will need to do a little research before beginning your speech. Here are some methods that will help you gain information:
- Ask the person who invited you for detailed information on the audience. That person obviously feels you have something to share that will interest the audience; find out what it is.
- Spend time talking with some individuals who will be in the audience. Ask them for one or two other contacts with whom you can also speak, and ask them what they would be most interested in hearing about.
- Read about the organization on their website or in their brochures or marketing materials.
- Use the Internet to gain background information on the individuals who will be in the audience and on the organization as a whole.
- Visit whatever venue draws the group together. For example, attend a club meeting or event; if it's a group of local merchants, such as the Chamber of Commerce, visit some of the local businesses that are members. Become familiar with the group's area(s) of common interest.
Once you have gained some insight into the audience, you will need to gather some basic information on the meeting at which you will be speaking. Here are some things you will need to know:
- Where will the meeting take place? (This question is important, and we will address it further in this chapter.)
- How large will the audience be?
- What will be the purpose of this meeting?
- What will the audience expect to hear from those who are speaking?
- Will there be other people speaking besides you? If so, where will your speech come in the agenda?
- How long should your speech be?
- How much will the audience already know about your topic? Will you be speaking to experts in the field, or introducing some new topic with which they are unfamiliar?
- What is the age range of the audience? Will you be speaking to a group of high-school students, to senior citizens, or to a wide mix of ages?
- Will your topic be something with which the audience will be in agreement, or might they be somewhat hostile to your ideas?
As you can see, knowing details about your audience will determine a great deal about the speech you write. In this sense, the audience largely determines what you will say, before you have even started writing your speech! A person could be invited to speak on quantum physics to a group of high-school students, but that speech would be vastly different if it were given to a group of rocket scientists. That's because public speaking is entirely focused on the audience, not on the speaker.
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