4 Secrets to Successful Speeches

By Alyson Connolly

Part of Public Speaking Skills For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Some people just seem to knock it out of the park when they speak. Sure, being a natural is a terrific place to start, but even the best speakers still have to work at it to get better. A four-year-old boy may be a natural pitcher, but it’s going to take a lot of work and dedication to get to the major leagues.

Here are some tips to help you focus that work.

Know your audience

Find out what they know about the topic. What are their demographics? Has anything occurred recently in the community that has been a good thing, like winning a sports championship? Has anything happened that has been traumatic, like a fire that destroyed the high school? You may want to mention something about these things in your speech. That will give you an automatic connection with the audience and a good first impression that you’ve done your homework and really care about them.

Hook the audience and leave them wanting more

Reel that audience in once they’ve sat down.

The hook usually comes in the first sentence and sets the tone for the speech. Let’s take an example of a speech about growing a community garden:

  • Pose a rhetorical question that you don’t expect an answer to. You want the audience to think about it: “Would you be in favor of an amenity that makes your neighborhood more beautiful, feeds your community, and gives many people a sense of purpose? “
  • Throw out a statistic. “A garden that is cared for can yield up to half a pound of produce per square foot.”
  • Tell a story: “When my next door neighbor grew too old to care for her garden, all the neighbors pitched in to help. Often we’d have worker bees and end up at someone’s house for a barbecue. It was a wonderful way to connect with each other.”
  • State your main point. This is the thesis of your speech. It can be said in one sentence. Then you begin laying out the arguments that support your main point.
  • Preview the ending: The ending is the summation of the speech. How do you want to leave the audience feeling? Can you preview that in your hook? Maybe it is the end of the story where you talk about your neighborhood itself growing, and more community gardens being started after your neighbor planted the first seed.

Write in your own voice

The essay may have been useful in college, but now you need to write to speak. That is different. The audience wants to get a feeling from you and get to know who you are as a person — not just understand impersonal words on the page. If you feel that you have to write that essay because you feel more comfortable and like you’re hitting all the points, feel free. But then say your speech out loud. Is that how you speak? Do the words make sense for you? Are these words that you use in everyday language — or are they “essay” words?

Record yourself giving your speech and analyze it. You can use an audio recorder or video recorder. Listen to your voice — it may not sound the way it sounds in your head, but that is indeed what it sounds like to everyone else. Use that knowledge to improve your delivery.

Use visuals and slides — or not

Ask yourself whether you really need them. Will they truly enhance your speech — or just give you something to do instead of focusing on delivering your speech?

Don’t read from your slides. The audience can read. You may not need words at all in your slides. If you must have words, let them appear on the screen line by line, one at a time, with a maximum of five or six words at a time. Make sure everything is big enough for all to see. Make the type large and clear.

Instead of reading word for word, paraphrase what is on your slides.

Pictures often work better because they can evoke memory for the audience.

Pay special attention to color. People who are colorblind often can’t differentiate between red and green. If you’re using a green background with a red graph, they may not be able to see it.