Written by: Lynne Strang
Mark Twain once said, “There are two types of speakers: Those who get nervous and those who are liars.”
If the thought of speaking in public gives you sweaty palms and a pounding heart, you have plenty of
One of the keys to getting those butterflies to fly in formation is lots of practice – and good preparation.
In this post, I share five basic tips for preparing a speech. Whether you’re giving a presentation for work, or
speaking at the luncheon of a local civic organization, these tips can help you put together a great talk.
1) Know your audience.
As a speaker, you have a goal — to share your viewpoint, evoke an emotion or persuade people to take
action. No matter what your goal, an understanding of your audience will help you present your message in
a way that’s significant to your listeners’ lives and experience. This alone will go a long way towards
ensuring that they listen to you.
What, in particular, should you know? While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are some of the
characteristics that distinguish one audience from another:
Their age. When you know the generation of your audience, you can cite events or products that are
relevant and meaningful. Say you’re giving a talk about entertainment on television. An audience
comprised of mostly baby boomers will remember TV shows like “Gilligan’s Island” and “Laugh In.” An
audience of Millennials may have no idea what you’re talking about.
Their occupation. If everybody in the audience has the same profession, you can assume they have a
certain level of specialized knowledge. On the other hand, using jargon or referring to specialized
knowledge that is unfamiliar to the audience can be confusing and could be perceived as arrogant.
Their political orientation. Is your group conservative or liberal? Are they open-minded? Or do they take
firm positions? Be aware of an audience’s general attitude when deciding whether your talk focuses on a
topic, refers to it only briefly, or omits it altogether.
Their leisure activities. What do they like to do for fun? If you’re speaking to a group of golfers, for
example, this opens up the possibility of throwing in a golfing analogy or anecdote.
2) Organize your material.
We’ve all endured speakers who ramble – and by the end of the speech, you have no idea what they were
trying to say.
A good speech has a clear structure, with an opening, a body and a conclusion. While there are many
variations of this basic structure, you’ll find these three components in all good speeches.
The best way to organize your ideas? Create an outline. For the middle, or body, of your speech, think
about the three main points you want to make. Then sort through your facts, statistics and other material –
and group them under each of these points. By taking this approach, you’ll help your audience follow you.
3) Start strong.
A good beginning catches your audience’s interest and makes them want to hear more. Some ways to open
- A startling statement
- An interesting statistic
- A rhetorical question
- An appropriate quote or story
- A display of a picture or object that ties into your subject
Whatever opening you choose, make sure it’s appropriate and relevant to your speech.
4) Tell stories.
Stories are what make a speech memorable. After a business presentation, your audience may not
remember your numbers. But they will remember your story if it resonates.
The best stories are your own – the ones that come from your professional and personal experiences. When
you share your own stories, they’ll come across as genuine and sincere (because they are). An added bonus:
Sharing personal stories will put you more at ease in front of your audience since you know your material
Effective storytelling has many elements. Among them: Vocal variety. As you practice your talk, work on
your pitch, pace and volume. It’s hard for the audience to pay attention when the presenter talks in a flat,
monotone voice. If you want to get really good at storytelling, join Toastmasters.
5) Wrap it up.
Your conclusion is the destination of your speech. Ideally, it ties into your opening. This is where you want
your audience to take action. Maybe it’s to support a cause. Maybe it’s to think or feel a certain way.
A good close is forceful and confident. You can close with a summary of the points you just made and the
conclusion that can be drawn from them. Or with a story or quote that emphasizes the point you made.
There you have it – five tips that can help you prepare a good talk. And remember: The more you speak in
public, the better you’ll get at it. The next time you’re invited to speak, take a deep breath – and say yes.
About the author:
Lynne Beverly Strang is a freelance writer who helps small business owners meet their communications and marketing goals. Prior to becoming a solopreneur, Lynne had a long career in public relations where her writing projects ranged from speeches to newsletters. Lynne is the author of Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs: Eight Principles for Starting a Business After Age 40. She has an award-winning blog, also called Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs. Her website is lynnebeverlystrang.com.