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Public Speaking
An Introduction to Giving a Speech
PAPER ONE : An Introduction to Giving a Speech

The reality is that for many of us, the thought of giving a speech rarely crosses our mind until one of those times in life occurs when someone looks at you innocently and says, “Well, will you say something?” and most of us go hot and cold at that point – which is a shame because you don’t need to.

1. Different people, different opportunities

There are some of us who, from time to time in work, find that the job requires us to stand out of the front of others and speak. We’re not very good at it and we just do it – which is a shame because we could really make something of it.

Then, of course, there are the professional speakers – politicians, preachers, teachers, lecturers and those who now make their money by sharing their knowledge and wisdom on the lecture or after-dinner circuit.

These pages aren’t for those last people; they either sink or swim and make their money or reputation and we’ll leave them to get on with it. No, these pages are for those of us who find ourselves unfairly confronted by life that demands we stand up and speak. They are also for those who do it from time to time and would like to think about improving what we do.

2. Different opportunities, different needs

Having to “give a speech” crops up quite a number of times in life. If you follow the traditional path and decide to get married (this usually excludes the ladies) you suddenly find people are talking about “the speeches”, so if you are the groom, the best man or the father of the bride, you suddenly find there is an expectation on you to ‘do your thing’.

Then someone in the family dies and because you’ve been a favourite of Aunt Dorothy, she comes up to you and says tenderly and in a way that can’t be refused, “Darling, do you think you could say something about your uncle at the funeral service next week,” and suddenly you are confronted by a completely new ball game.

As you climb the chain at work, one day your boss calls you in and says, “I’m going to have to be away next week but on Friday old Jack retires. Can I leave it to you to say a few words to see him off?”  And, yes, yet another opportunity to get it all wrong has been dumped in your lap.  But it doesn’t have to be like that!

Then, of course, one day it will be your turn and all your office or factory colleagues gather round while the boss says what a good colleague you’ve been and hands you the fruit of their collection, and then suddenly they are all looking at you expectantly. Another time to speak in front of others has just arrived.

Because each of these instances has their own unique features, you’ll find a separate page for each one.

3. Different needs, different possibilities

These and many more opportunities crop up in life, opportunities that will allow you to either make a total mess of things that will have people sniggering for weeks to come,  or rise to the occasion and leave people saying what a great speaker you are for months to come, and how good what you said was.

Now if you are someone who has a job that requires you from time to time to stand before others to say things, you may think I am making an unnecessary heavy meal of something that is, for you, fairly ordinary, but when did you last do a little self-appraisal? How do you feel about having to speak publicly? A necessary evil?   What preparation do you put in? A few hastily scratched notes the day before?  How much do you think about it? That’s only a tiny part of my job, you protest. Yes. but perhaps it could have a much greater impact than it does now. It just needs thinking about a bit more.

For most us, we’ve just never seen the possibilities that come with public speaking and so with each of the individual pages, we’ll look at motivation to speak as well as how to speak and what to say. If we don’t realise what we could be achieving through this opportunity to speak then our approach to it will be casual and the outcome a mediocre experience which is best soon forgotten.

In the long past TV series, The West Wing, often based around speeches, White House speech writer, Sam Seaborn, tells his staff, “The difference between a good speech and a great speech is the energy with which the audience comes to its feet at the end.” Well you may not be in the professional speech-writing business that anticipates applause at the end, but you do have the possibility of making people feel good about you and about what you say. That’s what this is all about!

4. Clearing our minds

Some definitions:

‘Speech’ – n. Public address in formal style

‘Talk’ – n. Short address or lecture in conversational style

‘Lecture’ – n. Discourse before audience or class on given subject, usually by way of instruction

‘Rhetoric’ – n. (A Treatise on) the art of persuasive speaking.

‘Oratory’ – n. Speech using highly colourful presentation of the facts,

‘Preaching’ – v.or n. Deliver a sermon or religious address

‘Raconteur’ – teller of anecdotes

For most of us ‘speech’ or ‘talk’ are likely to be the key experiences. Lectures tend to be more for professional speakers, as is preaching. You are unlikely to be using rhetoric or oratory unless you are a politician, and even then it only tends to be at national level that it is used. Unless you are likely to be an after-dinner speaker, using anecdotes may be a small part of your speaking, but not the main part.

No, for most of what follows we’ll be dealing with speeches or talks, but it is useful to be aware of the other expressions of public speaking.

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Part 2 - continuation of this article

This Paper’s Contents: