How to write and deliver a perfect speech
I’d like to start out with a story. No, that’s not quite right. Sorry, bear with me—I’m not very good at public speaking…
Public speaking is hard, isn’t it? It’s daunting, and it it can be scary and, while the statistics vary on the subject, a recent survey reported in The Times notes that more people are scared of public speaking than death. This seems like a somewhat extreme response, but glossophobia is all too real for much of the population.
While the physical act of getting onstage and addressing a crowd is daunting, the best way to get ready for a speech is doing as much preparation as you can in advance. The people in front of you may be a wildly variable factor, but only you are in control of what will be said. But how can you make sure that your speech is not only well prepared, but well received?
Write what you’re going to say in advance
Knowing not only what you’re going to say, but how you’re going to say it is especially important for anyone who is new to public speaking. Doing research online into sample speeches—whether it’s a best man speech, a toast, or speaking at a corporate event—can give you an important insight into tone and content. Just make sure to avoid the sorts of public speaking cliches used at the start of this article if you can; if you want your audience to take notice, try to tell them something in a way they’ve never heard before.
Writing out your entire speech in advance is an extremely useful tactic for getting a handle on how you want to deliver your words; there’s no shame in reading directly from these notes if it will make you feel more comfortable on the day. In fact, one public speaking expert blames the flashy, pseudo-spontaneous atmosphere of TED talks for a wider move away from reading notes and cue cards.
Ultimately it’s a question of what you feel most comfortable doing; if you can remember your lines, that’s great, but if you’d rather stick to a script, there’s nothing wrong with that either. Just make sure you’ve planned what you’re going to say ahead of time, especially if you don’t feel comfortable improvising.
Practice practice practice
One of the benefits of writing notes in advance is that it allows you to know how long the speech itself will be; event planners Snapdragon recommend that preliminary times be set for each speech, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed to ask how long you’ll have to talk in advance. This gives you the opportunity to run your speech a few times, which not only gives you an idea of how long it will be, but how long it will take you to actually deliver it.
Your nerves will likely make you talk faster than you have been while practicing, but as Inc puts it, “In the history of the entire world, I don’t think anyone has ever said, ‘I wish that speech had been longer.’” It’s far better to underrun on the day having said everything you’d planned to. Don’t feel obliged to fill that hypothetical space with additional waffle if you already feel like you’ve perfected what you’re going to say. To help get a sense of time, you should also rehearse in front of a friend or two once you’ve got a rough idea of what you’ll be saying, getting their feedback on content and structure, as well as how you’re delivering the words.
Remember that the audience is on your side
While it’s easier said than done to pretend the audience isn’t there, it is highly unlikely that the people you will be speaking to are rooting for you to fail. The audience is on your side, whether they are friends or strangers, and if you are still uncertain about who you will be talking to, there is nothing wrong with asking the event planner ahead of time.
If you’re still nervous, there’s one more thing you should avoid; whatever you do, don’t picture the audience in their underwear. While this advice, apparently popularised by an episode of The Brady Bunch, has lingered in the popular imagination for nearly half a century, there’s no proof that it actually works. Instead, picture the ideal response an audience could give you; laughing at your jokes, taking notes at your insightful comments, and giving you a hearty round of applause at the end of your speech. With the right amount of preparation, you can make it look easy. Who knows, you may even enjoy yourself.