Public speaking is a frightening prospect to people of all ages. If you are a high school student, you can probably think of several thousand other things you would rather do than stand up in front of people and talk. However, the ability to express yourself confidently in front of a group is a useful life skill for job interviews, presentations, customer service situations and more. There are several techniques you can learn to make it possible not only to survive giving a speech but also to feel confident doing it.
We choose our words according to the situations we are in and the people to whom we are speaking. Vocabulary that is appropriate for your friends is not necessarily appropriate for your boss. To give an effective speech, choose the right words for your audience. They need to understand the words you choose to use. Your words also need to be appropriate for the subject, so it is best to avoid slang. You do not need to poke fun at the audience or try to be funny. Audiences can detect insincerity, so be honest and say what you actually believe, not just what you think the audience wants to hear. This will enable you to speak with emotion and make your speech more powerful.
Different situations call for different types of speeches. A speech to your graduating classmates has a different structure than a three-minute presentation in class about your dream career. Learning the correct structure for different types of speeches is straightforward. There are many types of speeches, all of them differing in structure and length. These can include impromptu, demonstration, informative, persuasive or tribute speeches. Each speech is suited to a different life situation. Choose the speech structure that best suits your situation, and write your speech accordingly. Pay attention to your introduction. There are many types of strong introductory techniques called "hooks." These can be anecdotes, rhetorical questions, surprising statements, startling statistics, or even doing something unexpected or unusual. In your conclusion, the last thing you do is tell the audience to do something: Raise their glass, bow their heads, give a round of applause, call their senator, donate their time or phone their mother. A strong beginning and ending will help the audience remember you and your speech.
Lack of practice and nervous, distracting body language often interfere with what would be an otherwise good speech. Once you have your speech planned and written, practice it. Children, pets and mirrors make for a poor audience when you practice. They cannot give you very useful feedback. Practice with a friend instead. If you have to read every word of your speech from your notes, you have not practiced enough. The more you practice, the more confident you will feel. The most useful technique to eliminate nervous body language is to have a friend record a video of you speaking and watch it several times. Look at what your hands are doing while you are talking; they should be relaxed. Notice how you stand; you should be straight and tall. Pay attention to your eye contact. Do not stare at your notes, the ceiling or the floor. If your jewelry is noisy, change it. Avoid touching your hair or face. Keep your hands out of your pockets, and do not clasp them in front or behind your back. Use this technique several more times to ensure you have eliminated these bad habits before you give your speech.
On the day of your presentation, arrive at the venue early. Make sure you are wearing clean, appropriate clothing; choose the outfit that brings you the most compliments. Take any bulky objects out of your pockets, and make sure your cell phone is turned off. Prior to beginning, check your volume in the space to ensure you are loud enough. Notice where the edges of the audience are, and ensure that you will be able to make eye contact with the people sitting in those areas. If you want to move while speaking, check the area beforehand to make sure there are no obstructions such as wires or cables that could cause you to trip. All of these steps will help increase your confidence. During your speech, speak as you did when practicing; do not try to improvise. Remember, it is normal to feel nervous before, during and especially after your speech. This is not a weakness or a flaw. If you have prepared yourself and practiced well, use that nervous energy during your speech to make it animated and interesting.
Based in Victoria, BC, Canada, Josh Hawthorne has been writing curriculum and digital project guides since 1998. He holds a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Victoria. Hawthorne freely admits he loves reading zombie literature and is currently working on a book about error correction for students learning English (without zombies).