Your knees are shaking and your heart is pounding. You’re about to deliver your first speech. Sound familiar? There was a day when I would have been searching the room for the closest exit. With the right training, coaching and practice, it doesn’t have to feel quite this bad.
The key to any good speech delivery is being comfortable with the subject you’re about to present. If you’re familiar with the topic, the ideas will come to you naturally. I just completed my first speech contest. I was nervous, but I got it done. I delivered a speech about a hike I made several years ago — one of the most physically challenging experiences of my life. It was easy to tell because I lived the story!
A lot happened on this 73 km hike. Everything from climbing rock faces to walking along a beaver dam, and feelings of excitement to trembling fear. Preparing my speech started by paring down the events of the experience into a cohesive story that would hang together for seven minutes, the maximum length for a contest speech.
I started by collecting my thoughts — one of my first steps in any writing exercise. Then, getting the information together and creating an outline. How was this story going to unfold and what message did I want to deliver?
Here are some ideas to help you build a spot-on speech.
- Focus on one or two messages. If you try to cover too much ground, you’re bound to lose the audience and you could lose yourself in the storytelling.
- Remember that, like a good story, a speech has a beginning, a middle and an end. Focus on each part and how you’ll take the audience on your journey with you.
- Find a hook. How will you grab your audience’s attention and keep their interest locked on what you want to say?
- Keep it simple. In the time that you have, don’t over complicate the ideas so that each needs to be explained. This will only lead to your message sounding disjointed.
- Include a personal story to connect with the audience on an emotional level. My speech was a story about my personal experience hiking in the backwoods. Your speech may not be a personal story, but maybe you had an experience that relates to the topic?
As you deliver your speech, remember to include good voice fluctuation and expression. A voice that stays at the same pitch throughout the presentation can dampen its effect and make it hard to hold your listeners’ attention. And, don’t forget to add facial expressions and physical gestures or movement. These all contribute to a well-received speech.
Never one and done
Once you write your speech, it’s time to practice over and over again — not just by yourself, but in front of others. Look for opportunities where you can deliver your speech. There’s no better way to gather feedback and get over your nerves than performing a dry run with friends or colleagues.
Expect changes along the way, editing to connect disjointed sections, word changes to enhance the delivery and new ideas that will strengthen your story. Speech writing is never a one and done.
To my surprise, I finished first in my speech contest. With the help of some great coaches and lots of practice, I got over my nerves quickly.
We all have a story in us. What’s yours?