If you’ve just been handed an assignment to give a speech, you can probably identify. Giving a speech is a big responsibility. It’s not like an essay or a paper that only the teacher reads.
If you bomb this, your whole class gets to suffer through it.
If you nail it, you can bask in their admiration.
Hopefully, the second sounds more appealing, so let’s get you started on learning how to make a speech!
Preparation = 90%
Dale Carnegie, the famous author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, once wrote that “a well-prepared speech is already nine-tenths delivered.”
Believe it or not, effective speaking rarely relies on speaking experience. It helps, of course. The more you stand and speak, the easier it gets (more on this later). But even if you’ve never given a speech before in your life, you absolutely can do well if you prepare.
There are three steps that you need to take, three things you need to do if you want to give a baller speech.
1. Want It
Like I said earlier, a speech is not a paper. It’s not an essay.
If you can write well, you can write a good paper even without caring too much about it. You can write an essay about something you give zero fluffs about and it can come out alright.
Inversely, if you do care about your topic but can’t write worth a darn, your paper won’t turn out that great. Your essay might be passionate but it won’t make much sense.
Speeches are the opposite.
If you really want to do well, if you really care about your topic – really – you’ll usually do well.
If you stand up in front of a room and they can see that you’re passionate about your subject, little things like verbal pauses or a slight organizational issue can slide under the radar.
However, if you don’t care about your topic and you stand up and try to give a speech, guess what? The audience will know you don’t care. And if you don’t care why should they?
Let’s say you’re giving a persuasive speech.
Your goal shouldn’t be “getting a good grade.”
Instead, set your goal as “delivering a great speech and persuading my classmates.”
The first step in preparation for making a speech is to really, truly want to do well.
2. Learn It
That same Dale Carnegie dude called this the “secret of reserve power.”
Other folks call it the 10x rule for effective speaking.
Basically, it’s this: prepare way more than you need to.
Seem too simple? It really kinda is. And yet it makes all the difference in the world.
Let’s say you have to give a 3-5 minute speech.
If you research your topic and digest it and know it well enough to be able to talk for 15 minutes, how well prepared to give a 3-5 minute speech do you think you’ll be?
Businesses use this all the time. They’ll have a salesman learn way, way more about a product than necessary. Things that a customer (or prospective customer) would never ask in a million years.
They do this for two reasons. First, so that when an off-the-wall question inevitably comes, the answer is right there and ready.
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Second, when you really study a product, you gain a confidence talking about it that you wouldn’t have otherwise. You can’t help it; it just shines through no matter what you do.
For your speech, if you “overprepare,” learning as much as you can about your topic (within reason and the restraints of time, of course), you will do better.
You almost can’t help it.
When you stand up to speak, you’ll have the weight of expertise behind what you’re saying. Your knowledge of the subject will give you confidence.
And not only in your prepared speech, either. Fielding questions? Easy peasy … if you’ve prepared.
3. Practice It
All. The. Time.
In the shower.
As you drive.
To your dog.
Take a video of yourself on your phone in your bedroom giving the speech, and then watch it back and critique it.
Then do it again.
Seriously: the more you practice a speech the better it gets. You almost can’t help but improve.
As you continue to talk about your topic, your brain will sort things through. It’ll make new connections, even, and strengthen the best wording of old ones.
If you practice, you won’t have to memorize a speech. You’ll know your main points, and the way you express those main points will be solidified in your subconscious. It becomes almost effortless.
Now, by “practice,” I don’t necessarily mean “standing and talking formally as if it’s a dress rehearsal for your actual speech.”
I mean, I do mean that, but not just that.
Practicing your speech can come via a regular conversation. Just talk about your topic.
Ask your friends or family what they think of xyz thing and have that conversation … or even debate. Really – if you can find someone who disagrees with you, it will improve your speech immensely.
When it comes time for you to actually make your speech, you’ll already have had to find ways to overcome objections.
Make it Happen
The big day cometh!
You have a topic or assignment – it’s just a matter of turning that topic or assignment into public speaking gold.
Aim high! The only thing stopping you from becoming a great public speaker like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill is you and how badly you want to improve.
Will you make it to oratory greatness overnight or even on this assignment?
Of course not. Probably not.
But these tools will certainly get you started.
Note: Many thanks to Dale Carnegie – his books have guided much of my own journey in public speaking and were an inspiration for this article.
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Some folks do better with video and audio. If you're one of those, check out this article in video form - just drop in your email and I'll send it right to you.