So You've Been Asked to Speak...

Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 57
Publication Date: 02/87
Order#: 87-009
Last Reviewed: 03/97
History: Reprinted July 1994, March 1997
Written by: Mary Ellen Norry - Rural Organization Specialist/OMAFRA; Robert S. Black, Rural Organization Specialist/OMAFRA

Table of Contents

  1. Researching The Topic
  2. You've Got The Information, Now What?
  3. Essential Elements
  4. Microphone Tips
  5. Dealing With Guest Speakers
  6. Introducing A Guest Speaker
  7. Thanking A Guest Speaker
  8. References

Researching The Topic

Speech preparation takes time. Researching the topic is step one. As a speaker, you want to be very clear about the topic on which you have been asked to speak. At times, research is easy as the speech comes directly from knowledge of the subject. You may want to add a few extra points of interest. It is important to collect much more information than you need and from this wealth of information sort out the most interesting points.

Remember to keep the audience and purpose of the speech in mind when you are searching for information. Try putting yourself in the audience's shoes. What would they want to hear about the subject? Will it be useful to them?

Start early. Research and fact-finding takes time and energy. Your information must be accurate, concise and up-to-date. It can be taken from many sources: books, radio, experts, newspapers, magazines, interviews as well as from your knowledge.

In your search for information keep track of your sources and credit them where appropriate during your speech. Using another person's work as your own is plagiarism. It is unfair and dishonest.

You've Got The Information, Now What?

Once your information has been collected, begin making a detailed outline of your speech. A good speech has an introduction, a body and a conclusion. Organize your speech so that it is easy to follow, understand and accept. The speaker must help the listener, not wear him out.

The body which represents the greatest amount of your speech describes the what, where, when and why of your subject. It must follow a logical order so that the audience does not become lost or confused. By selecting three or four important points and building around them, the speaker can develop one main idea. Use the most important points in your research. You may have to save some information to use in a question and answer period or for use at another time.

The conclusion is a summary of the main points of your speech. This is your last chance to leave an impression with the audience. You may want to challenge the audience to action or make an appeal for further consideration. New information should not be included in the conclusion.

The introduction is the attention getter to the body of your speech. It puts the audience at ease while informing them of your subject. It may include a quote, a question, an unusual fact or idea.

Your speech should be written in the order presented here. The body of the speech should be written first, then the conclusion. It is much easier to write the introduction if you know what you are going to say, so write it last.

Essential Elements

The secret to successful delivery is practice. Rehearse your talk in front of an imaginary audience, family or friends. Practice delivering one thought to each person and visualize their reactions. Tape recording lets you evaluate yourself and make essential changes prior to the event.

Through practice you will:

Develop Confidence

Being nervous before a presentation is natural. The more prepared you are, the less nervous (self-conscious) you'll be. Arrive early. Check the facilities and make necessary changes before going on stage. Know your material thoroughly and anticipate your audience's questions and reactions. Concentrate on what you are going to say for 10 to 15 minutes before the presentation, without interruption. Take an inventory of your nervous symptoms (talking too fast, trembling) and work at overcoming them. Slow deep breaths help combat nervous energy. To develop confidence, act as if you already have it and you will become confident. Think Success!

Speak From Your Knowledge of the Subject

It doesn't matter if you use the same words each time you practice or deliver the talk, as long as you stay with your organized outline. A speaker who memorizes a talk may forget that he/she is trying to communicate an idea to his/her audience. The best rule to keep in mind is to "talk with, not at" the audience and "tell" them what you want them to know.

Notes (cue cards) are emergency tools only. Use them for highlighting key ideas, rather than writing out the entire speech. If your mind temporarily goes blank, "Pause", say nothing until you regain you thoughts. Non words - "um, er" - only detract from your delivery. Work at improving your memory with the use of mnemonics. Three techniques that you can practice are:

  • linking of facts - form an image for each item to be remembered and then picture it interacting with the image of the next item in your speech.
  • loci method - think of a series of 10 to 20 well learned locations (points on a path that you take daily) then place one key idea at each location in order and you will recall your speech material in the proper sequence.
  • peg and hook method - memorize a series of pegs on which information can be hung. A rhyming peg system is best. You might use: one is bun, two is shoe, etc.. Once you know this association, form an image of each key idea interacting with its assigned peg. If speaking on the structure of an essay, you key ideas are introduction, body and conclusion. Imagine an introduction being the sandwich filling for the bun; a body (person) sitting in the shoe; the word conclusion hanging in a tree.

Whichever method you choose, your associations must be automatic and you must feel comfortable with them if they are to be successful.

Let Your Voice Work For You

An effective speaker will have an expressive voice that varies in range, pitch, rate, force and quality. Key ideas can be given vocal emphasis by:

  • using pauses before and after. Sudden silence just like sudden noise makes your audience more attentive
  • using a higher or lower pitch
  • varying your speaking rate - speak more slowly for important words.

Proper pronunciation and a grammatically correct presentation give credibility to the message as does ending statements on a 'down' tone.

Be Natural

Hand gestures and body movements should be natural and spontaneous. It is better to use fewer gestures than a lot of false ones. To assume a comfortable, relaxed stance that facilitates gesturing, imagine that you are suspended by an invisible string so that your body is erect, each part squarely positioned on the next. Your arms should fall loosely at your sides. Posture will either reinforce or contradict your message. Be aware of and minimize unconscious reactions (pacing, hand touching face) that distract your audience from listening. Smile and put your audience at ease. Showing interest in your audience will encourage their interest in you.

Use Visuals Effectively

When used well, visuals add to the clarity of the presentation and reinforce your spoken word. Visuals, such as charts, drawings or slides must be of high quality and large enough to be easily seen by all. Before your presentation, rehearse with these props and ensure that all equipment is in proper working condition. Throughout the presentation, look at and talk to your audience, not the visual.

Choose Appropriate Dress

Public presentations may or may not require a suit or dress depending on where you are speaking. Your topic may also dictate the type of dress that is most appropriate.

Be Yourself

There is no absolute right or wrong way to deliver a speech or demonstration. What helps one person communicate an idea may not work for you. For example, if you don't tell jokes, don't do it. People will quickly identify that it's not you. Use the techniques that help you clearly communicate your ideas to others. Be yourself - do it your way.

Microphone Tips

  1. Before your presentation, take time to become familiar with the microphone.
  2. Test the Microphone. Say at least one or two sentences to hear how your voice is being projected. During the presentation, ask, "Can you hear at the back?"
  3. Adjust the microphone to the correct height and distance from you. It should be positioned at chin level approximately three to eight inches away.
  4. Speak directly into the microphone. Don't turn your head away from it or your voice will not project evenly and your message will not be clear.
  5. Breathing should be as quiet as possible, regular and without undue tension of muscles. Noisy breathing, rustling papers and clutching or kicking the mike stand will be magnified.
  6. Be Aware of microphone cords, particularly if wearing a throat mike.
  7. Use Vocal Energy as you would when speaking without a microphone. Project - make your voice as resonant as possible.
  8. Relax. Think of the microphone as a friend and let it carry your message.

Dealing With Guest Speakers

Guest speakers are an important resource for organizations. If you are considering a guest speaker, follow these guidelines to ensure that you share the necessary details with your speaker. Clearly communicate:

  • name and function of the organization; type of meeting, date, time, location and length of session in question
  • type of presentation (keynote, educational workshop, etc.)
  • number and make-up of people attending the session
  • objectives of the meeting and the session (what you want accomplished)
  • meeting agenda (at the very least, what will be taking place prior to and directly after the speaker's session)
  • specific problems and issues that the participants are facing
  • strengths within the organization that do not need further emphasis
  • ask for speaker's suggestions and ideas
  • fees, if any.

Introducing A Guest Speaker

When making an introduction, your aim is to set the stage for the speaker by arousing the interest of the audience. A good introduction should include:

  • the speaker's name
  • the title of the speech
  • the speaker's qualifications (in relation to the topic)
  • a statement illustrating why the topic is of importance to and how it will benefit the audience.

Be Brief. Your responsibility is to introduce, not make a speech. No introduction should be longer than 60 to 90 seconds.

Be Enthusiastic. Your enthusiasm towards the guest speaker initiates audience interest and stimulates the speaker. A handshake at the end of the introduction helps to make the speaker feel welcome.

Be Sincere and Tactful. Accuracy is important. Identify who he/she is. What is his/her position, career? What specific experiences has he/she had that qualifies him/her to speak on the subject? Choose three or four points that specifically relate to the topic rather than giving a complete life history. Request that the speaker provide you with a resume.

State Name Clearly and Correctly. Always check name pronunciation with the speaker. When known to the audience or if the speaker's name is printed in the program, it is only necessary to mention his/her name once, for example, "Ladies and gentlemen, John Doe". In all other circumstances, the speaker's name should be repeated.

Lead the Applause. After calling on the speaker, initiate the applause as he/she approaches the microphone.

Never state that the other speaker that you tried to get was unavailable. You want to give the impression that the person most suited to the topic is about to speak. Statements like ". . . the speaker we've all been waiting for", "without further adieu", "it is indeed a great pleasure" are unnecessary and are not as effective as ending with a simple "Ladies and gentlemen, John Doe".

Thanking A Guest Speaker

A few well chosen, sincere words and the applause that follows makes a speaker's task worthwhile. The only way to prepare to thank a speaker is to listen well. When thanking:

  • stand and wait until the audience is quiet, then begin
  • be sincere and to the point. One to two minutes is recommended.
  • make specific and accurate references to the speech. If the speech has been poor, simply express your appreciation of his/her time and presence.
  • conclude by thanking the speaker again on behalf of your organization and lead the applause while looking directly at the speaker. Do not announce the applause. If there is a gift, bring it out at the end of your thank you.


  • How to Develop Self Confidence and Influence People by Public Speaking. Carnegie, Dale. Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, 1973.
  • 4-H Branch - Alberta Agriculture
  • Network. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Volume 3 Issue 2, 1985 Volume 4 Issue 6, 1986
  • Notes for Community Leaders - Speaking in Public. Ontario Ministry of Culture and Recreation, 1980.
  • Professionally Speaking: Getting Ahead in Business and Life Through Effective Communication. Wilder, Lilyan. Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, 1986.

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