How do you feel when you finally get an invitation to be a guest speaker at a big social event? A great friend of mine has been angling for such an opportunity for a long time but when it came, he was completely thrown. Although he speaks in public, regularly it has always been in a work environment and normally about presenting a report of his project. So when he started to prepare for the event, he realised that he didn’t know what he wanted to talk about. Then he realised that as this was an evening event and he would be speaking to people who expected him to be entertaining after eating a three-course dinner, something he never attempted to do before. I could see he wanted to make an impact but not crash out, so we agreed to meet and plan his speech together.
Planning your speech
Firstly you need to know how much time you have for your talk. If it’s for 30 minutes, for instance, you can allow four to five minutes for your opening and the same for your conclusion leaving you with 20 minutes of actual content. The content needs to be planned well in advance. Don’t ever leave a speech to the last moment. It needs time to mature.
Do your research
One idea is to interview all those people who are close to the subject of your speech to find out their best stories. Check out with your hosts what they are looking for and whether you can link your talk to your audience’s interests. Having an insider view will impress. So set aside time to research all the eventualities.
Writing the speech
A simple fool proof way is to base your speech on three key areas. An hour long speech may require six topics delivered in groups of three. The Power of Three has never failed some of the greatest speakers Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King and Brack Obama so it’s good enough for you. Three topics are easy to remember so that enables you to remember what you want to say with more confidence. A diagram such as a mind map can also serve as your notes or prompt.
Practising your speech
Speak slowly and clearly and moderate your tone and don’t be afraid to pause to allow people to think about your point or laugh at your joke. Control your breathing and, therefore, your nerves. Anyone can project their voice with the right breathing technique, and that saves all embarrassment with microphones that may break down on the day. If you do use a microphone, you need to try it out first. Handheld microphones will lose your words if you turn your head. Lapel microphones can lead to public relations disasters when not switched off in time. Remember Mr Brown on the campaign trail! Finally, practice, practice, practice and then rehearse the whole speech to a willing friend or failing that your children or the family pet.
On the day
If you can arrive before the evening begins you can suss out the room and the layout, check any equipment you may be using and meet your hosts with confidence. Only one other point – try to avoid drinking alcohol until after your speech. A glass or two of wine may make you feel more courageous though it nearly always wrecks your performance!
Charlotte is the author of the Useful Guide to Public Speaking published by Pansophix, Presentations Made Easy ebook and How to Give the Perfect Wedding Speech on Kindle