Public Speaking Made Easy

“The mind is a wonderful thing. It starts working the minute you’re born and never stops … until you get up to speak in public.” –Anonymous

You’ve been speaking to others since you were two years old. Communication with people is such a natural part of our lives, we may never stop to think about the process. But if you’ve been asked to speak in public, you may wonder, “What do I do first?” “What if they don’t like me?” “What if I totally blow it?”

Consider The AudienceWhat can you do to improve your public speaking abilities? Let me introduce you to the Audience-Centered Speechmaking Model with the central element of considering your audience. Let’s start with “selecting and narrowing down a topic” and then we’ll move clockwise around the model examining each step. Your selection of topic, purpose, and even major ideas should be based on a thorough understanding of your audience—in a very real sense, they write your speech!

As the model shows, considering your audience is an ongoing activity. Being audience-centered involves making decisions about the content and style of your speech before you speak, based on knowledge of your audience’s values and beliefs. It also means being sensitive to your audience’s responses during your speech so that you can make adjustments.

In Step 1, Select and Narrow Topic, you discover your topic by asking two standard questions:
  1. Who is the audience?
  2. What is the occasion?

Who is the Audience?
Consider the average age of the audience. What are their interests?

What is the Occasion?
Besides your audience, consider the occasion for the speech when choosing a topic. Consider the physical arrangement. Will you be standing in front of people or speaking to people seated in chairs arranged in a circle? The physical surroundings and occasion determine the degree of formality your audience expects from your speech.

In Step 2, Determine Purpose, you need to decide on both a general and specific purpose. There are four types of general purposes for speeches: to inform, to instruct, to persuade, to entertain. While you identify each purpose separately, they often overlap. You may want to inform and entertain your audience when you suggest creative ways to avoid standing in long lines during the holidays.

After making sure you understand your general purpose, you need to identify your specific purpose. This is a concise statement informing your audience what they will be able to remember, to feel, or to do when you finish your speech.

To generate main ideas, you will want to develop the key points of your speech. The central idea identifies the essence of your message. Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Does the central idea have logical divisions?
  2. Can you think of several reasons the central idea is true?
  3. Can you support the central idea with a series of steps?

In Step 3, to Gather Supporting Information, you want to incorporate verbal and visual information. These can include facts, examples, definitions, and quotations from others that illustrate, clarify, amplify, and provide evidence. Here, as always, when preparing your speech, the importance of being audience-centered cannot be overemphasized. There’s an old saying that an ounce of illustration is worth a ton of talk. If a speech is boring, it is usually because the speaker has not chosen material relevant or interesting to the audience. Don’t just give people data; connect facts to their lives.

In Step 4, Organize Your Presentation, keep in mind that every well-prepared speech has three major divisions: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. The introduction helps capture attention, serves as an overview of the speech, and provides the audience with a reason to listen to you. The body presents the main contents of the speech. The conclusion summarizes your main points. You may have heard this advice: “Tell them what you are going to tell them (introduction), tell them (the body), and tell them what you told them (conclusion).”

Here are some best practices for when you Practice Your Presentation, Step 5. A speech is a performance, and as with any performance, you need to rehearse. Rehearsing your speech is a way to measure your message so you get it right when you present it to your audience.

  • Rehearse your speech aloud, standing just as you will when you deliver it.
  • Find a comfortable way to phrase your messages, but don’t memorize your talk.
  • Rehearse enough so that you can discuss your ideas and supporting matter without leaving out major parts of your speech.
  • As you rehearse, practice making eye contact with your imaginary audience, be certain to speak loud enough for the entire room to hear.

If you practice your speech as if you were actually delivering it, you will be a more effective speaker when you talk to the audience.

The time has come for you to Deliver Your Presentation, Step 6. When you are introduced, walk calmly and confidently to the front of the room. Establish eye contact with your audience and smile naturally. Concentrate on your message and your audience. Deliver your speech just as you rehearsed it with your imaginary audience: maintain eye contact, speak loudly enough to be heard, and use natural variations in pitch. 

Finally, remember the advice of columnist Ann Landers: “Be sincere, be brief, and be seated.”

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