How to deliver a great speech

How to deliver a great speech

If you’re standing at a lectern, put your notes down on it and set your hands in a relaxed way on either side of the top part.

With the wedding and other celebration seasons coming up – as well as kick-off season for many businesses whose financial year starts soon – it’s time to polish up our techniques ready to get up and deliver a great speech, whatever the occasion. Here are some further tips to add to the HTWB collection of speechwriting and presenting articles.

I have worked with professional, amateur and social speakers extensively over the last, well, I won’t admit how many years! And over that time I have learned not just how to write for them but also how to help them develop their presentation and delivery performances.

Here are my own few tips and observations on how to get the best from your presentation and delivery…

Before you deliver your great speech

Forget about “Dutch courage” – don’t drink any alcohol until after you’ve given your speech. In my many years of writing speeches for business people and social speakers I’ve heard all the rationales about a drink or two loosening the tongue, calming your nerves, relaxing you, making you funnier, etc., and they’re all bullsh*t. Even one drink affects your concentration detrimentally and can ruin your performance.

If you can’t escape somewhere private to practice, go into a quiet corner and pout as hard as you can, then release your lips. Grimace, then relax. Do this a few times. It will help relax your facial muscles and help you speak more easily.

Microphones: how to use them

If a microphone is available, take advantage of it – don’t be afraid of it! Usually a microphone at a wedding or other social occasion will be on a stand, either a table stand or a full stand depending on the set-up. If you are the first speaker to go you’ll need to check if the microphone is live; this you do by tapping it gently with your finger. Whatever you do don’t blow down it as the moisture from your breath can damage its innards. If it isn’t live check that it’s switched on; usually the on-off switch is on the side of the device, or sometimes at the bottom.

Assuming you haven’t had the chance to do an on-site rehearsal, use your first line as the test to see where you should position the mike and yourself to get the best effect. Don’t worry if you need to fiddle with it for a moment or two – there’s no meter running, so take your time! Obviously if you’re not the first speaker to go you shouldn’t have to make anything other than very minor adjustments to the mike, but if you are first it may take a bit of trial and error.

Then, when you’re speaking, make sure that wherever you are – and you may be moving around a little to look at your audience (see below) – the microphone is more or less directly between you and the audience. In other words, “aim” your voice so it goes towards the microphone first, as I’ve attempted to illustrate below. First of all, looking straight ahead….

HTWB great speeches 1

Then, to your left….

HTWB great speeches 2

And finally to your right….

HTWB great speeches 3

Obviously you don’t need to move very much to achieve this – probably a matter of inches. However if you don’t move appropriately, as in this diagram …..

HTWB great speeches 4

…..your voice will go past the microphone and not get picked up properly. People will tell you not to worry about this as the microphone is “omni-directional” and can pick up a fly’s footsteps at a distance of 20 metres. Don’t listen to them. Even an omni-directional mike will go quiet on you unless you aim your voice squarely across it.

Finally, remember not to rely on a microphone too much. Even with electronic help you still need to speak out and project your voice when you’re giving a speech. A quiet mutter will still sound like a quiet mutter whether amplified or not.

Some further tips of mine on how to deliver a great speech

Stand up proudly – shoulders back. This give you more authority and makes people take notice. Don’t hurry or shuffle around. If you’re standing at a lectern, put your notes down on it and set your hands in a relaxed way on either side of the top part. Use your hands occasionally to stress a point. If there is no lectern and you are walking around, if you have some notes in your hand you can still gesticulate with them! Don’t overdo the hands windmill style, however.

Use silence as a means of creating anticipation. Don’t rush into your speech or presentation; look down at your notes, then look up, and let that process take a couple of seconds. Breathe! Then start off at your own pace. A second or two of silence also acts as punctuation throughout your speech – to emphasize a point, or to indicate a change of topic.

Don’t speed up your voice. Ridiculous though it seems, the speed at which sound travels is very slow and if you talk quickly it will make it a bit hard for people at the back to understand what you’re saying. When you’re rehearsing, consciously slow your speed down so you can replicate that feeling when you’re actually giving the speech for real. Without exaggerating, try to pronounce every word completely. Often we tend to speed up because we’re afraid of boring people, but it’s not true – on the contrary, listening to someone jabber at 90 miles per hour is very tedious.

Use eye contact. When you look around to get eye contact with people, keep moving your eyeline around but not too quickly or you’ll look shifty. If your audience is large, split the room visually into sections and then look at each section in turn. Actually make eye contact with individuals, too. It helps them feel you’re talking to everyone.

Smile. My late grandfather had a lovely saying … “smile when you don’t feel like it, and you will feel like it when you smile.” Smile when you’re talking even if you’re nervous. It’s infectious – people will smile with you. And if you’re smiling you won’t look nervous, even if you are.

Don’t panic if you goof. If you fluff a line or mess something up, don’t apologise. Just smile and keep going, unless (and if appropriate) you can make a joke about it. You are not Dale Carnegie and no-one expects you to be as polished as a politician or professional orator.

Feeling nervous is good. If you feel nervous, remember that’s natural and if anything, it’s good. The extra adrenaline pumping around in your system will help keep you on your toes mentally.

Good luck and happy speaking! And for more help with how to research, write and deliver both business and social speeches, don’t forget to check out my eBook, Super Speeches.


Image thanks to,_Feb._2014.jpg




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