Giving a Speech


There are two sides to a successful speech - preparation and presentation.

To prepare your speech you need to research the topic in the same way as you would if you were going to write an essay. You need facts, you need opinions about the facts (including your own opinion), and you need to decide in what order you are going to present those facts and opinions. The rules for plagiarism are the same as for an essay or any other piece of work; if you copy and paste you risk scoring zero for your speech, no matter how well you present it.

You also need to decide on what technical aids - if any- you are going to use. Will you use a microphone? Will you use the chalkboard? Will there be prints? You may want to play a recording at some point in your speech, for example if you interviewed an expert as part of your research. Or you may want to show a video. Or you may have posters you want to use. These days, PowerPoint has become a powerful tool for giving presentations, so please check out my advice on using PowerPoint below.

What you do not need to do - and should avoid doing - is to write up your speech as if it was an essay. Instead of that, write the basic section headings of your essay, and write the facts and opinions in note form under each section. Also include in your notes any details of technical aids and a rough estimate of the time each section will take.

For example, suppose you are giving a speech on the death penalty. Your notes might look something like this:

-  General facts (1) D.p. for different crimes, e.g., adultery in some Arabic states, political dissidents in China, etc. (2) Different types of d. p. - gas, guillotine, hanging, etc. (2 mins.)
-  D.p. in Japan (1) History (seppuku, etc.; d.p. for losing honour, etc.) (2) Today (d.p. for murder; 19 people hanged last year, 56 people
    waiting to be hanged; hangings semi-secret - no announcement)
    (2 mins.)
- Reasons for d.p. - Other punishments may reform the criminal; d.p.
    cannot. Is d.p. revenge? 'D.p. stops others' - show chart (OHP) and play  tape. (5 mins.)
-  Crime rates - Levels of crime in countries with d.p. and countries without d.p.; show OHP chart. (2 mins.)
-  Conclusion No proof d.p. stops others. Recommend ending d.p. in Japan. (1 min.)
-  Answer questions

As you can see, your notes do not make much sense to anyone else; if someone found them they would not know that 'd.p.' meant death penalty, for example. But they are enough to remind you of what you are going to say. If you write the notes out in full there is a danger that, instead of giving a speech, you will simply read out your notes. That is not the way to give a successful speech.

Now practise your speech several times. Time yourself over each section. Check the equipment you will be using. Make sure you know how to set it up properly. Think through each step so that you can walk in on the day and give the speech without delays or confusion.
If you have done the preparation properly, presenting your speech will be no problem. Of course you will be nervous! It may help you to know that almost everyone is nervous when they have to give a speech. I know I am! I find I feel less nervous once I have set up all my equipment and put my notes on the desk in front of me.

It is very important, before you start, to get people's attention. I have often seen students start to give their speech while the rest of the class is still chatting. You can clap your hands, or ask for silence, or just stand and wait until everyone is quiet. One trick is to tell the class, 'I will ask you questions about this afterwards, so you'd better listen and take notes!' The important thing is not to start to give your speech until you can be clearly heard by everyone. 

Once you start speaking, you should remember that what you are now doing is communicating with people. If you have your face buried in your notes, or your back turned, or you are speaking very quietly, or very fast, you are not communicating. Face the audience, hold your head up, and speak slowly in a clear voice. If you have given some information that is especially important, pause for a moment or two afterwards, to give your listeners time to realise its importance.

A good speech usually provokes questions afterwards. If you ask for questions, wait for  at least half a minute afterwards, asking people if they are sure they have no questions. This can be stressful, and one way to make it easier is to cheat a little bit and 'plant' a question (i.e., give a friend beforehand a question you would like him/her to ask)! Answer questions as clearly and honestly as you can; if you don't know the answer you can say so, but try to guess or give some helpful comment; 'I don't know, but...' is better than just 'I don't know'.

When there are no more questions, take your notes and other materials, bow to the audience, and go back to your seat. It's over - you can relax!

Giving a PowerPoint Presentation

PowerPoint has a lot of useful features that can make it more attractive and interesting. For example, you can make pictures and texts appear or disappear in different ways. Having a lively set of PowerPoint slides will definitely help your audience to pay attention and appreciate your presentation. However, even a lively set of slides will not help if you haven't rehearsed and practised your presentation. You need to be able to move smoothly from one slide to the next, giving time for people to see what is on each slide and connecting the slide with your speech.

One common mistake is that people simply read exactly - or almost exactly - what they have written on their slide. There's no point in this! The information on the slide should add to your speech - it should not be the same as your speech. There should be pictures or diagrams that will help to illustrate your point, so the audience can watch these while you explain. There should also be some text summarizing your main points. You can read those summaries if you like, but they should just be summaries. You should add a lot more detail in your spoken presentation.

For example, here is a slide from a presentation on William Shakespeare:

The speech for this part of the presentation might be something like this:

Some people say that Shakespeare's life is a mystery, but in fact there are quite a lot of things that we do know about him. For example, there is a special church ceremony when a child is given his or her name. This ceremony usually takes place a few days after the baby is born. The ceremony is called baptism. We know that William Shakespeare was baptized here, in Holy Trinity Curch, in the town of Stratford on Avon.

Then the PowerPoint moves on to a different picture and some new text, like this:

The speech for this part of the presentation might be something like this:

How do we know that Shakespeare was baptized here? We know because it is in the church records. Every church had a register, and all the ceremonies which took place in the church were written in the register. Shakespeare's baptism is entered in the register (in Latin) on April the 26th, 1564, in between ceremonies on April the 22nd and May the 3rd. The register is hundreds of years old, and it would be more or less impossible for anyone to fake or falsify this information. So we can say with certainty that Shakespeare was baptized on this day, and was probably born a few days - or maybe even a couple of weeks - before the ceremony took place.

As you can see, the PowerPoint presentation gives pictures to help the audience understand, and summarizes the main points of the speech, but the speech gives much more detail.

Try to use PowerPoint in this kind of way in your presentations. By the way, you can see the whole of the above presentation on "Shakespeare the Man" here. The speech for that presentation is not the same as the example of the speech on this page because I don't read the speech from a script; each time I give this presentation the words I use are different, although the basic message is more or less the same.

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