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Great Speakers: Winston Churchill, my Aunt Milda, and You.

Aug 17, 2007
Great Speakers: Winston Churchill, my Aunt Milda, and You.

In a recent study of people's ten greatest fears, public speaking ranked first, ahead of financial ruin and even death. But remember what one great speaker said about the only thing to fear being fear itself? It's true.

Whether you're saying a few words at a dinner party or giving a speech at the United Nations, the same rules apply. While our Speaking Tips are not all obvious, they're all very simple. Taken together, they can help nearly anyone give a great speech.


The single most important factor in giving a speech, no matter what the occasion, is this: Know your audience! If you don't know whom you're speaking to, then you run the risk of saying something inappropriate. So tailor your material accordingly.

Your audience will determine what you say, how you say it, and the tone that you use when speaking. Don't doubt us on this one.


Don't expect that just because you have the words in front of you that you'll automatically say them in convincing fashion.

Only if you are seasoned at this sort of speaking does it come naturally, and even then most people are very familiar with the material they're talking about.
If you take the time to become comfortable with the words you're going to say, your speech will improve dramatically. So don't just practice by reading your speech to yourself. Read it aloud. Read in a way that's going to reflect how you're going to have to say it to the audience. Consider taking these few steps in working on delivery:

Read the speech aloud to yourself at the same pace you'll read it to the audience. Identify any lines that don't sound correct and rewrite them. You may want to time yourself to get an idea if you're speaking for too long.

Next, deliver the speech standing in front of a mirror, trying to address yourself as you go. Say the speech all the way through without having to back-track or pause and correct yourself. The sooner you simulate the real experience, the easier the time will be when you have to deliver the real thing.


Quite simply, you know a good speaker when you see one. They're comfortable, confident and completely at ease with the words they're saying. Even more, they keep the audience interested throughout the entire speech, even if the material isn't that compelling.

On the other hand, you know a weak speaker when you see one. They tend to speak without any inflection or emotion. Worse, they may mumble or read the speech from the page in its entirety without ever looking up from the lectern. This is almost as painful for the audience as it apparently is for the speaker.

This is where delivery makes a big difference in the success of your speech.One of the main concerns is how much material you should memorize for your speech. Let's make this clear off the top - don't stress yourself out with trying to memorize a speech completely. That's unreasonable. Some people like to have the

speech in front of them in its entirety while others prefer to work from cue cards containing the essential points of their speech. If you can speak off-the-cuff, congratulations. That's an impressive talent, but few people have the ability.


It's important from the moment you walk up to the lectern that you exude confidence. If anything, in preparing to deliver a speech, don't rush. In fact, this is the point that you must remember a fundamental of good speaking: BREATHE!

Make sure you're comfortable at the lectern and that the microphone is at an appropriate height before you even begin starting (don't tap it! - if it's not working, somebody will sort it out). And before you do start, look at the audience and establish eye
contact. Keeping breathing and then begin.


It's really the most disturbing part of giving a speech, isn't it? The sweating, the trembling voice, the dry throat and pounding heart. The simple fact of the matter is, most people who give speeches get nervous. It's natural - really! But how you control your nerves is the sign of a good speaker.

Furthermore, the fact that you've been asked to say a few words probably means that you are the best person to do the job.

Don't take that as putting more stress on you. Enjoy yourself, and more importantly, be yourself.
For starters, take a glass of water to the lectern. If you need a drink, remember that there's no rush. Pause and take your time sipping (not gulping!) the water before picking up where you left off. If you have to cough or blow your nose, turn
your head away from the microphone and do it.
If the trembling voice kicks in, focus your efforts on speaking distinctly and at an even pace. Don't rush yourself, but merely try to establish eye contact with your audience and speak up. Once you find your pace, you'll be fine.

You should also put a handkerchief (not a paper napkin) on the lectern if you tend to perspire in these situations. Again, don't rub your forehead vigorously or simply dab the perspiration away. Take a moment to wipe your forehead, place the handkerchief down and then move on.

Another couple of common hazards of public speaking are shaky hands and the stuck-in-one place mannequin stance. Standing in a frozen position is not a good way to win over your audience. The best thing you can do is to occasionally shift your foot position or move your arms. Again, keep breathing and relax your limbs. You can read more about this under the section
Eye Contact and Body Language.

Other than that, if you want to ease your nerves before speaking, try to focus on something calming. Think of something that relaxes you. If that doesn't work, try to treat the nervous energy you have as something that you can use to your advantage. Direct that energy into your speech.


As you know, your voice is your most important tool when addressing an audience. How you present your words, the tone, the rhythm and the volume are all important aspects of speaking. Unfortunately, you're not typically aware of all these elements when it actually comes time to deliver, so consider the following when rehearsing your speech.

Make sure you pronounce all your words clearly and correctly. If you're not sure about the pronunciation of a word, ask someone who knows. This is especially true for peoples' names. Altering the pacing of your speech and emphasizing the important words in sentences will go a long way to helping give your speech mood. It will also help distinguish some of the most important parts of your speech. Finally, avoid saying "uh" or "ah" when there are pauses in your speech.

If you stumble over some words, don't panic. Mistakes happen. People are far more likely to forget about it if you give the matter as much thought as it deserves. If it's a small mistake, merely move on. If it's a more noticeable mistake, simply pause, back-up and say the word correctly. If you want to frame your correction appropriately, say "pardon me, I mean..."
or "rather, that is..." or something to that effect. Don't apologize profusely.


Backing up your words with confident eye contact and body language can be a persuasive means of getting your ideas across.

Consider for a moment some of the more successful speakers you have seen. Typically, they look completely natural addressing a crowd - as comfortable addressing five hundred people as they would be speaking to five people.

When you stand in front of a crowd, focus on standing up straight and projecting your voice to the audience. Make eye contact with individuals rather than gazing out at the back of the room. By making eye contact your speaking becomes far more intimate with your audience. And don't be afraid to smile occasionally. If anything suggests comfort, it's a smile. As well, gestures are a convincing way of helping emphasize the ideas in your speech. Remember, commit to your gestures - don't restrict them or you'll come across appearing uncertain.

And let's not forget the lectern. Remember, it is not your dance partner. You don't grasp it by the sides or slump over it. It is there to hold your notes, a glass of water and, maybe, a handkerchief. If you are feeling comfortable and don't need to keep looking down at your speech, feel free to step to the side of the lectern during the course of your speech. This
shows confidence on your behalf and also removes the barrier between you and the audience.


Every one of us has had to endure a speech where the guy thought he was funny. Painful, isn't it? The simple rule about using humor is this: keep it low-key, make it smart and make it quick. Another valuable rule is to personalize your humor -
draw from your own experiences and your natural humor will come through. Tradition suggests leading off a speech with a joke. We say, WRONG! If your joke bombs, you've lost your audience before
you've even begun. Furthermore, as far as racist jokes, ethnic jokes, sexist jokes and dirty jokes are concerned, in a word: DON'T.


Let's not get you nervous for no good reason. It's not like you're doing a stand-up at the local comedy club. But, just for the sake of being prepared for anything, you must accept the presence of hecklers. We're not going to give you any comebacks because you're smart enough to come up with your own. And if the ceremony is a celebration, then by all means
engage the heckler if he persists. Remember, it's all in jest.

If, however, you are faced with a more formal occasion and you have to deal with the ranting of some crazed fool in the audience, the best defense from the start is to stay calm. We can't emphasize enough how crucial it is for you to remain in
control. Simply ignore whatever nonsense they're spouting off - remember, this person is looking for a soapbox to stand on.

If the problem persists, you may have to acknowledge he exists, so if you want to shut him up, be polite and firm. Say something to the effect of, "We'll address all comments and questions from the crowd after I've finished speaking, thank you." If that doesn't work, the situation becomes worse, and the crowd hasn't told the guy to shut-up, you may simply step back from the microphone and wait for somebody else to do something about it.

Let us reassure you, only in special cases does this happen (politicians mostly, who deserve it usually). If it does happen, we say again, remain calm.


Always finish strong, both in the words you are saying and the manner you say them. This is your last opportunity to get your point across to the audience, so use it. Upon finishing your speech, avoid the impulse to gather your papers and walk away immediately. Instead, finish your last sentence, hold your position and look at the audience. After a moment, gather your note cards and with confidence, walk away from the lectern directly to your seat. In sitting down, don't allow your body language to suggest you are relieved at having gotten through your speech. Maintain your poise until the audience has finished applauding or the next item on the agenda is introduced.

There, that's not so hard is it? Seems like a lot of things to remember, but much of this will probably come naturally to most of you. And if not, then consider these points as a solid foundation for your future speaking engagements. Who knows, after you've put these tips to good use, you might be looking forward to the next occasion when someone says, "Say, you know who's a great speaker..."
About the Author
Michael Rabinovici(mr@occasionalwords.com)is an Interent entreprenuer Occasional Words TM. These tips were compiled by the company's founders and staff writers. To deliver your next great speech visit us at Occasional Words TM
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