How To Prepare and Present A Speech

By Melissa Brown, MD

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One project I completed for a Toastmasters educational course resulted in a video recording about how to prepare and present a speech. I’ve been a member of Toastmasters since 2011. Joining has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. Not only have I gained confidence in giving speeches and presentations, but I’ve also learned leadership skills through my Toastmasters journey.  I often say that Toastmasters is the best bargain I’ve ever found for personal growth and development.

Watch this 6-minute video of my speech project. Listen for the words starting with the letter “P” that you need to be aware of when you create a speech or any type of presentation. See how many you can pick out when you first listen to this training! And then go through the text below! How well did you do?

How to prepare and present a speech.

What’s the purpose?

Before you write one word, know the purpose of your speech. Is this speech to educate your audience? Is your purpose to inspire them to take a particular action–like buy something from you? Or is the purpose of your speech to entertain your audience?  Keeping the end result in your mind–the purpose or reason you’re giving the speech–will help you prepare the speech in a way that will best fulfill your purpose.

Who are the people?

Think about the people in your audience—who are they, what do they need and/or what do they want? Always keeping top of mind your objective for your speech, how can you deliver that to this particular audience?

Are these people at the level of beginners or advanced in the subject material you’ll be presenting? This is particularly important if you are teaching your audience how to do something. Your speech material will be different for these two types of audiences, so it’s important to know who will be on the receiving end of your words.

Plan your speech.

Plan how you’ll organize your speech. How will you deliver the information, inspiration, or entertainment to your audience in the most effective manner? All good speeches start with 3 basic building blocks; an opening, a body, and a conclusion.

Grab their attention right from the start.

You want to start your speech with an opening that grabs the audience’s attention right away. You can do that by asking a question, telling a joke or a story, or delivering a shocking statistic. You have only a few seconds to get people’s attention or you’ll lose them throughout the entire speech. The purpose of your speech may help you decide which is the best opening to get the audience to pay attention right from the beginning.

The body contains the meat of your message.

The body of the speech is where you present your informative or inspirational material. Usually, there is one main message but try to include no more than about 3 important points or takeaways within the body of your speech. If your speech is heavy on data, you might want to figure out how to tell a story to illustrate this data. Your audience will remember your story far better than they will remember your numbers and data stats.

Finish strong.

The conclusion for your speech should serve to wrap up and summarize what you’ve told them in your speech. Everything should make sense to your audience now. If you’ve opened any loops with stories, make sure those are now closed up. Clear up any potentially confusing connect-the-dot associations. If you’re inspiring the audience, tell them again what you’d like them to do now that you’ve shared something inspirational with them.

Make better, not perfect. Polish and Practice.

Next, you’ll want to polish and practice your speech. You don’t need to be perfect because there is no such thing as perfection. You want to improve your speech and the way you present it. You can tweak it and test it by doing practice sessions in front of a mirror or video. Time your speech to get it into the time frame that you’re allotted for your presentation. This helps you be respectful of your audience members’ time. Your host will appreciate you not going over or under time so they don’t have to adjust any of the event’s remaining schedule. And your fellow presenters will also be happy not to have to make adjustments in their speaking time when you’ve stayed within your own time frame.

You’ll polish the speech as you practice. This helps you get the words and thoughts across the way that makes them most effective in the spoken form. Remove any unnecessary words, phrases, or sentences. Clarify what needs to be made clear. Sometimes the final version of your speech looks very different from what you started with on the paper. And it’s a much-improved version as a result of your polishing efforts, too.

It’s more than a speech–it’s a performance.

You can make your speech a performance through the use of your voice, hand gestures, and body language. These all add spice and interest to your speech. Use your voice most effectively by not only knowing what to say but when NOT to speak. Pauses are effective to allow your audience to absorb some important points or think about a question that you’ve just asked. Vary the rate and the pitch of your voice. This allows you to emphasize your material much like an actor would. Be aware of body language and the effect you send to your audience with each movement your body makes. Body language is a big topic and this is just enough to scratch the surface to make your speech a performance.

Use your power.

Don’t forget about the audience and the power you hold over their attention. Step away from the lectern. Don’t hide behind it. Walk around the speaking platform and utilize the entire area. Address the different sides of the room so all audience members feel included. Make eye contact with individuals in the audience and briefly hold their gaze. Project your voice so those in the back can hear you or make sure you’re using the microphone to the best of its ability so everyone can hear you clearly.

Help for performance anxiety.

If you’re challenged with performance anxiety before and during speaking, practice power poses before you give your speech. This is as simple as posing with the Wonder Woman pose or Superman pose for a few minutes. This technique has been shown to lower the stress hormone, cortisol, and increase your confidence hormone, testosterone. You can also practice slowing your speech pace and taking deep breaths before and during your speech. Almost no one speaks too slowly when presenting a speech but far too many people rush through a speech in order to reach the end more quickly!

Don’t forget about you, the Presenter, in this speech.

One other “P” is not in this video. This one is all about you, the Presenter. Do take time to arrive early for your speech and be prepared by dealing with any audio-visual needs well before the minute your speech starts. Set up your computer, hook up the remote, and test everything so you know it’s working. Dress the part as the professional presenter that you are. Thank your host for the opportunity to be a speaker for the event. Be polite and generous to your audience members if you have the opportunity to interact with them individually before or after the presentation.

In summary, to create an effective speech, know the purpose of the speech and the people who will be in the audience. Plan your speech so it has an attention-grabbing opening, memorable body of information, and strong conclusion. Once you’ve written the speech, practice, and polish it to transform it into a performance. Use your power as the presenter to engage the audience. If you have performance anxiety, try power poses before your speech to increase your confidence and lower your stress.

Your turn!

Did you hear all the “P” words in the video? Even if you missed a few, I made the important ones bolded in the text above.

I’m always looking for helpful tips for myself and those I mentor with public speaking. I’m curious if you’ve found any other techniques that help you with performance anxiety. Power poses have been very helpful for me. Do you have any others to add to my toolbox? Let me know in the comments below.

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About the author

Dr. Melissa Brown's career journey has always had an element of teaching. After retirement from clinical pediatric practice, Dr. Brown has taught and mentored as a healthy lifestyle coach, author, and speaker. She currently teaches solopreneurs and coaches how to stop being the world's best-kept secret. Her mission is to help you: Create great content. Impact people. Change the world.

  • Great speech! I have been working on making videos for my website, blog and Facebook group and page. They aren’t really speeches, in the way that yours was, but it was great to watch yours all the same.

    • Thank you so much, Jeanine! Speeches start with talking–we can all do it if we’re able to talk. Speaking just takes some practice and tweaking. I used to be terrified to talk in public unless it was 1:1, now I have those butterflies in my stomach flying in formation when I’m giving speeches and they don’t take over my whole being!

  • Hey Melissa,

    You brought back fond memories of my time in the Toastmasters club. That was where I overcame my fear of speaking in front of strangers and learned to evaluate speeches.

    You did a great job with those tips for preparing and presenting a speech. All to best to you on your speaking journey.

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