Stand and Deliver
By David Edward Dayton
Careful preparation and practice can eliminate the dread that many novice public speakers experience, whether talking to a small group or a full auditorium.
For many adults, the prospect of speaking before a group may cause more fear than snakes, sharks, or an IRS audit. And in Scouting, most leaders eventually have to give such a talk, whether to a room filled with other Scouters or an auditorium packed with parents.
It might be reassuring to realize that even professional speakers get butterflies waiting to deliver a speech. But it’s even better to know that two simple steps -- knowing what to do and practicing how to do it -- can convert any uncontrollable panic into a manageable -- and probably much less stressful -- situation.
Three elements are involved in the creation of any successful speech -- the audience, the message, and the speaker.
Preparing well for the audience and defining the message will reduce anxiety for the speaker - you.
Because the audience provides the purpose for your speech, it’s important to address the needs of the listeners. An assembly may be auditorium–large or meeting room–small. Get a microphone for the auditorium; use your natural
The message is the heart of the speech. What information must you convey? How much does your audience need to hear?
Inform or persuade
You can inform, persuade, or entertain. Unless you are a natural-born comedian, your purpose will probably be one of the first two options.
Informative is the most common of the three kinds of speeches. Outline the important points you want the audience to know. Do not overwhelm listeners with too many facts. (If you must give them a list, present it at the door when they leave.)
The traditional advice from speech advisers still applies: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.”
In other words, repeat, repeat, repeat.
The persuasive speech is a series of short arguments or reasons favoring a course of action. Present your best reason first and work down. Audiences often accept a strong argument and then allow weaker points to cover the nuances.
If, however, the opening argument is weak, the audience might reject the course of action, stop listening, and start brainstorming alternatives. (If you want the group to share ideas, give an informative speech followed by a discussion.)
Examples and facts
In both informative and persuasive speaking, use examples and facts to support your statements.
Instead of saying “We can make a lot of money selling candy bars,” share the news that “Troop 333 in Ohio made three thousand dollars in two weekends selling this brand of candy bar.”
Anecdotes and stories make an impression. Instead of “I cannot stress enough that you triple check his equipment list before sending your son to summer camp,” recall the time that “one boy had to call his parents and have them drive all the way to camp just to deliver some underwear.”
In preparing your talk, make an outline and include all facts and figures you intend to quote. Use the outline to keep on track, especially after a question or digression, but be sure to speak to your audience, not to the paper. (Some speakers prefer using index cards, and holding them during the talk may reduce stress -- but be sure to keep your nose out of your notes.)
After focusing on the audience and the message, be sure to prepare the speaker (you). Review three things the audience will notice most.
-- ?Personal appearance. Wear something appropriate to the occasion. For Scouting functions, make sure your uniform is correct and complete. Never over- or underdress. Make the audience concentrate on your speech and not your appearance.
-- Gestures and other distractions. Practice speaking in front of a mirror or ask someone to videotape a rehearsal. Do you flail your arms each time you mention a certain word (like “money”)? Do you pace back and forth like a caged cheetah as you pounce from point to point? Are you playing with “toys” that no one else in the room can touch -- your buttons, note cards, or pocket change? Eliminate distractions and focus attention upon your speech.
-- ?Your voice. Microphones are valuable in an auditorium because they help modulate a voice. You can declaim without shouting and sigh without silencing. In a small room, however, avoid overamplification, or you may blast your listeners through the wall.
Remove annoying “fillers” in your speech pattern, like “you know,” “um,” or “uh,” by pausing to collect your thoughts. Relax, and articulate all words carefully. If you stumble over a word in practice, replace it with an easier-to-pronounce synonym.
If you don’t have a great deal of time to prepare your speech, you can still ease your anxiety by remembering two simple tips:
Smile and be brief.
That’s it. Smile at your audience. Let them know you like them and that you are glad they came to hear you speak.
Then tell them what they need to hear and make it short.
By overcoming “podium phobia” through knowledge and practice, you may even get to the point where you look forward to an opportunity to share information with a larger audience.
Author of Sing and Change the World (Aslan Publishing, 2002) and an instructor in speech arts for more than 30 years, David Edward Dayton lives in Sacramento, Calif.
Copyright © 2007 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.