Always start preparing a speech by asking: Who is the audience and what does it need?
Prepare your material carefully and tailor it to meet the audience’s needs. Research the topic thoroughly, particularly if you expect to have a question session at the close of your speech. Being well prepared is a valuable confidence builder.
If you use humor, the one-liners or jokes should accentuate major points the audience needs to remember.
Illustrations should meet the same criteria. Every word spoken should address the audience’s need. If possible, record your speech and listen for the strongest points and weakest points.
Be yourself. Never imitate someone else. Don’t try to sound professional. Sound like yourself. Being yourself makes it easier to relate to the audience, and more importantly, easier for the audience to relate to you.
Enjoy yourself. An audience will feel any discomfort you are feeling.
Dress appropriate to the occasion.
If the topic is serious, be serious. But also be enthusiastic, lively, relaxed and confident. Confidence is crucial. Seriousness without enthusiasm and confidence almost guarantees boredom.
And, yes, humor will work with serious topics. Humor without confidence is a killer.
Look at individuals in the audience. Make eye contact. Speak to them like they are old friends.
Try to start a speech with a grabber, an ice-breaker. This can be as simple as presenting the topic (visually, if possible), and asking the audience what they would want to hear about it?
An appropriate joke or story or one-liner that illustrates the topic is great — if you think it’s great. If you have any doubt about any type of humor, you likely will lack the confidence to deliver it naturally and effectively.
Pause for effect. Let the listeners reflect and absorb. But only briefly, then hit them with your next point.
Audio-visuals are great to enhance a speech, not to help you remember it. We’ve all been bored by speakers who simply read their PowerPoint outlines.
If you use audio-visuals, always have a Plan B, in case something goes wrong.
Time is important. Keep track of it and never go beyond the allowed limit.
The old teaching advice still works well for public speakers: Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell them … tell them … then tell them what you told ‘em.
Closing on your main point is always best.
Enjoy the whole experience. When you enjoy your speech, odds are the audience will enjoy it, too. And you will have met their need, so they will remember you.
Joe Hickman, a veteran broadcast journalist, also writes for top public speakers and edits http://HaLife.com. Check out his Humor for Speakers pages.