How to Hone Your Public Speech Delivery

By Alyson Connolly

Warming up is vital if you want to give a great speech. You’re a speech athlete, and all athletes warm up before they compete. Remember, you are using your body. Speakers, just like athletic competitors, need to warm up physically and vocally.

Articulate

What’s that you say? You might be passionate about your speech, but if you don’t open your mouth and pronounce your words clearly, know one will care. Articulation helps you communicate your ideas to your audience. That starts with your mouth.

You need to open your mouth to be understood clearly. Many speakers hardly open their mouths. Perhaps they’re mirroring other people around them who have shut their traps. Or mumbling is a habit. Or they’re scared. Your articulators include the tongue, lips, jaw, and the soft palate.

You may feel self-conscious about your accent. By the way, we all have accents — we all sound different depending on region of origin and other factors. If you’re from New York, your accent or how you pronounce words is probably very different from a Texan’s. All you Canadians out there, don’t be thinking that the only people with accents are from Quebec and Newfoundland. Every community says words differently. So embrace your accent. You don’t need to get rid of it — in fact, you can’t. You just need to be clear in your pronunciation.

If you’re told constantly to speak up, you don’t have to push your voice. Just make sure you pronounce the endings of the words. Don’t think your microphone will be your savior. Yes, a mic will amplify your sound so the audience will hear you at the back of the room. But they’ll also hear your vocal problems, too.

Resonate

Your whole body resonates and amplifies your sound. The most important parts are the head, throat, mouth, and chest. Think of yourself as an amplifier. If you hold tension in your body, you won’t be able to resonate fully, and your sound won’t be as rich and vibrant.

Use the right tone

You express meaning through tone. Yes, express. Speakers often have trouble with this because they don’t want to exaggerate and look foolish. But if you feel excited that the stocks have grown in the company portfolio, shouldn’t you show it? Yes — make sure you show it.

When you speak, you need to use vocal variety. The speaker who sits on one note is boring and loses the audience’s attention.

Be mindful of what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. If you’re selling a group of seniors a new retirement package, don’t be condescending. Remember your message and what you want the seniors to do. You don’t want them to write you off as some young whipper snapper who just wants his money.

Add visuals

Visuals like slide shows can help enhance your message. But make sure they really add to your presentation and don’t just give you something you think you can hide behind.

You definitely don’t need to put a whole bunch of words on slides and proceed to read them. Boring! Your slides or other visuals should only relate to main points or provide context for what you’re saying.

Answer this question: Do your slides truly complement your speech or did you just stick them in because you felt your words weren’t enough? If you took the slides away (which could happen — machinery has a tendency to fail at the worst possible moments), could you still give your speech with full confidence? Your answer should be yes.

Try using pictures. When we look at a picture, it evokes feelings in us and carries us into our imagination. That’s usually more than words on a slide could ever do. Words on a slide just give the audience a visual version of what you’re saying already.

Make sure you’re consistent with your message. If you are talking about, say, plumbers and their right to make a choice about striking, and your slides are all about stats on how many plumbers are in the union, the audience doesn’t know which to focus on. If they read the stats, they miss what you have said. If they listen to you, they miss the stats. If they read the stats fast and you’re still talking they may just zone out completely.

Be creative. Think outside the box. Try to incorporate other kinds of visuals, such as props. Props can create more impact have more impact than a PowerPoint slide. Just make sure to use a prop that’s big enough for the whole audience to see.

Get laughs

Getting the audience laughing can be a fantastic technique. But comedy can be tricky to pull off. The audience will smell a phony, so be authentic. Even if you aren’t a naturally born jokester, you can tell a joke or a humorous story. You don’t need to be a comedian to be funny. The trick is to find your funny bone and add humor to your speech without alienating the audience.

Start by writing what you know. Write about you and your life. Many times I hear my friends talk about funny incidents that have happened to them that they would never share in front of people who aren’t their good friends. Well, now’s your chance.

Here are some quick tips to being funny up there:

  • Focus on what the audience and you have in common.
  • Try it out on friends.
  • Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and open — audiences love that.
  • Don’t say, “Have I got a funny joke for you.”
  • Don’t assume they will laugh. Appreciate it when they do.
  • Once you start the joke, keep going and stay committed to telling it all the way to the end.
  • Use situational humor.
  • Talk about what’s bugging you.
  • Keep it clean.
  • Find someone who is funny and ask that person about your story.
  • Don’t be the first to laugh, but feel free to laugh at yourself if the audience does.

Tell stories

Everyone loves stories. Using narration helps to get your message across in a fun way that engages the audience. A personal anecdote helps the audience get into your world and relate to you. You can use part of a story as a hook and then wrap it up in the conclusion.