Public speaking is an integral part of everyone’s life, whether it’s in front of friends and family at a wedding reception, a presentation to colleagues and superiors, or a new project proposal. Learning more about the art of public speaking will help you gain the confidence and skills you need to present yourself and your ideas effectively.

Audience and Purpose

The first things to remember when planning any kind of speech are your audience and purpose. Who are you speaking to and why? What are you trying to accomplish with this speech? Are you teaching a room of sixth graders how to fold a paper crane? Are you persuading potential investors to support your new proposal? These factors are the core of your efforts.

How you speak depends greatly on who you’re speaking to. It’s crucial to consider how much background knowledge your audience has on your topic. Are you giving an update on a familiar subject or introducing an entirely new idea? Are you aiming to shift their perspective on an issue or simply to bolster a past conclusion? Similarly, consider the language you’re using. Try to avoid technical jargon unless you’re speaking to those in your field who will be expressly familiar with the terms. Depending on the environment you’re speaking in, also adjust the formality of your speech. In a conference room, you’ll want to sound confident, knowledgeable, and well-rehearsed; in a room full of close friends and family, you’ll want to sound friendly, relatable, and natural.

A big part of getting your language to sound right is rehearsing your speech beforehand. Don’t deliver a written speech word-for-word if you can avoid it, either. This often results in a stiff, monotonous delivery and makes it much more difficult to recover after a simple slip. When you concentrate less on reciting an exact manuscript, your speech will flow more easily and feel a lot more natural. If you’re comfortable– or at least appear to be– it’s likely your audience will be too.

Most speeches are given extemporaneously based on a general outline or set of notes. The content of the speech will remain the same each time it’s practiced, but the exact wording is flexible, allowing the speaker to adjust in the moment based on audience feedback. This is not only a more engaging style but one that’s easier to learn and remember. Focus on your main concepts and goals, not the tiny details.

Statement of Purpose

When constructing a speech, keep your general purpose in mind. Your purpose will usually be to inform, persuade, entertain, or commemorate. Many speeches end up with overlap between two or more; an especially common combination is to inform an audience about an issue and to persuade them a particular stance or solution is the correct one.

A full statement of purpose for a speech includes a more specific effect on the audience. Generally, a speaker will aim for cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses. These are effects that influence listeners’ beliefs and understanding, emotions, and actions respectively. Pinpoint these goals ahead of time to make sure your drafts stay on track.

For more tips, look for “The Art of Public Speaking: Part II.”

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