PAPER TWO : The Simple Speech
We’re calling this section ‘The Simple Speech’ because most of what is here is fundamental to the basic, ordinary speech. You may, after a while, think it is not so simple, but if you feel that, it is simply because we are asking you to think through some of the key things involved when preparing for public speaking.
It may well be part of your job. This is not a special occasion like a wedding or funeral. You are simply faced with standing before some colleagues you know, or perhaps some outsiders you don’t. First of all realise that there’s nothing incredible about this; people have been making speeches for over three thousand years:
“In making a speech one must study three points: first, the means of producing persuasion; second, the language; third the proper arrangement of the various parts of the speech.” (Aristotle)
Don’t worry for a moment about his structure! Second, as we suggested on the Introduction Page, realise that even though you have to do this sort of thing every now and then, this is a one-off (see it like that!):
“Speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again.”
(F. Scott Fitzgerald)
This will be a unique occasion, because you probably won’t ever speak to this same group again, or even if you do, the circumstances surrounding you, your life and your work (and them) will be different next time. This is a unique opportunity to reach out to these people at this point in history. It may sound trite, but it is true, so why not give it that importance!
You are giving this speech for a specific reason (no, not because no one else wants to do it!). Take a piece of paper and write down in one sentence the PURPOSE of this speech you have to give.
Here are some possibilities:
1. You need to communicate some specific information to your colleagues.
- What information do they need to have, and why?
- Is this the best way?
- Would paper be better?
- What can you achieve by speaking that paper can’t do?
- Will I be making time for questions/feedback?
2. You are simply introducing someone or something else.
- Is there a print-out with information about them on it?
- What are the key points about them to be brought out?
- What do I need to say in addition to the print-out?
3. You are bringing instructions to colleagues, trainees or other interested parties.
- What are the instructions I need to bring, and why?
- What is the best way of conveying them?
- Do I need the support of PowerPoint and handouts?
- Am I happy to let them take their own notes?
- Do I need to encourage them to do this?
- Do I need to provide paper/pen etc. for those ill-equipped?
- Will I make opportunity for questions/feedback?
4. You are seeking to convey vision.
- This is all about picture painting, conveying ideas
- This needs to be more inspirational
- This is all about possibilities
- Am I open to ‘other things’ being suggested?
- Is there value in feedback/questions or is the ‘vision’ already set?
5. You are required to entertain
- This probably won’t be a work situation
- Possibly it is in an historical context and probably using humour in the form of stories, things that happened to you or situations you’ve heard about.
We give these ‘starter questions’ simply to prompt your own thinking about your own situation which may be quite different from anything envisioned above. But perhaps some of those things are exactly where you are.
If you haven’t done it yet, do what we said earlier: Take a piece of paper and write down in one sentence the PURPOSE of YOUR speech.
3. Approaching your Audience
The state of your audience may or may not be something over which you have influence – you may not be concerned about their frame of mind when they come together but their frame of mind CAN influence how they receive you and what you have to say, and may be worth thinking about.
I believe it was Robert Louis Stevenson who said, “All speech, written or spoken, is a dead language, until it finds a willing and prepared hearer.”
In your audience someone may be worrying about their health, their bank account, a relationship, their children, or a variety of other things; you can do little to deal with those specific worries but you can fill their mind in such a way that, for the few minutes of your talk, you can help them to put those worries aside because they are so taken up with you – the trouble is you don’t know who is struggling like that so you have to work on all your audience.
Obviously the way the meeting is set up where you are speaking, can be done in such a way that your audience feel cared for and that they are in good hands. Creating a ‘feel-good’ factor even in establishing the meeting, can have a significant effect on how people approach it. You may or may not be able to change that, but the way you approach the audience CAN do that.
If YOU are warm, friendly, in control, and are obviously caring about your audience, you will warm them to you. If you are arrogant and know-it-all, you are likely to raise their hackles and they will be hostile to you, and to what you go on to say. If you come as ‘the boss’ and impose yourself on this audience, you may get them to take in and remember what you say but they go away with a hostility towards you which does not make for a good future.
SELF-CONFIDENCE within you is quite a different thing from arrogance. When you are confident, you will not be defensive or trying to prove yourself, and that has various spin-offs. You can respect your audience and like your audience and that will be conveyed and when it is conveyed it will be reciprocated.
SELF-CONFIDENCE comes about when you know you have done all you can to prepare for this speech and you also now have a SELF-BELIEF that what you are going to say will be for their benefit. You have set your mind on doing good to the audience but not in any patronising way. You may never have seen it like that, but it is true. If you believe what you have is good and helpful, you will come over confidently and if you are confident you will know you don’t have anything to prove – and all these things communicate. Make eye contact with people and charm them. This is all legitimate if you are to do your best for these people.
At the end of the Introduction Page I wrote: I think the best quote I have ever come across that speaks volumes is: “The best way to sound like you know what you're talking about is to know what you're talking about.”
.... which takes us on to...
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Continuation to Part 2 of this Article