How you approach that moment when you stand up to give a speech depends a lot on why you are giving the presentation. Now we are not talking about the fact that you have to give the speech to pass your general education speech class in junior college or that your boss is making you give the speech because he is to darn lazy to do it. Instead to really give a good speech, you must know that the speech is designed to do. By identifying what the goal of the speech is and what you want the audience to experience from your presentation, that will give you a lot of information both on what kind of content to use but on your attitude and “approach” when you actually get ready to give the talk.
There are some very basic reasons that someone gives a speech. Those are to inform, to convince, to amuse or to cause action. Many speeches you hear are a combination of these motivations. A sermon is there to inspire which is a mixture of to convince and to cause action. A lecture in school is to inform and if you get lucky, the teacher will at least try to make the presentation also try to amuse you. So that is the first thing to ask yourself when you have your topic and your audience. Also there are variations on these themes. A speech intended to sell something is a variation on the “to convince” format.
A good question to ask when you are ready to put your presentation together is “What do I want my audience to do with this information?” If you want them to walk away with new information that makes them smarter people, you were speaking to inform. If you want them to laugh and have a great time, you were out to amuse. If you want them to go out and use your web site, to join your political party or stop hurting the ozone layer, the objective of your speech is to convince.
You will not necessarily announce when you start speaking what your objective is. Sometimes it’s obvious. If you are addressing your class at school, its obvious you are there to inform the students. But you may also be looking to convince them to live a certain way or to take some other action with the information you are giving. A speech to amuse is very often also a very softly worded sermon on behavior. Just watch any comedian and you will hear small snippets of philosophy such as “people, we are all the same, we just have to learn to live together” in the middle of the comedy set. That comic is actually out to convince you to change your outlook and behavior and using comedy as the tool to that end.
These are all very valid adaptations on the basic forms of a speech. To make sure your talk reaches its primary talk, lay down the outline or the “skeleton” of the speech with your primary goal in mind. You might even “back into it” by writing the conclusion first. The conclusion might be, “And so ladies and gentlemen, I hope you can see that using mass transit will do a lot to help the ozone layer”. From there you can back up into the body of the speech and lay down, again at the skeleton layer what your three points of the body of your speech is. These are the things that must get done and that you will evaluate whether you were successful by whether you got those points across.
With that skeleton done, you can go back and start writing the speech from the beginning and use any or all of the public speaking approaches to layer that on top of the core reason for the talk. You can use humor, inspirational stories, urban myths or factoids from history to help your speech be fun, compelling and attention grabbing.
If by the end of your talk though, you can tell you hit that primary goal, then your speech was well constructed. And a well constructed speech is easier to give. It is also easier for your audience to hear so everybody wins.
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