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Let’s look at the proven tips that have made a lot of people successful at public speaking.

First, I suggest you accept the fact that it’s ok to be scared and nervous.  Accept it and get over it. No one wants to take a chance on being in front of a bunch of folks and looking stupid; but we can’t let that fear hold us back from delivering our message. We can’t let that hold us back from leading. All you need to do is follow the rest of the tips here and you’ll be able to get over being nervous (to some extent).

Second, the best thing you can do is be prepared.  This means practice your speech.  Stand in front of a mirror or a couple of friends, and give your speech and let them help you fine tune it.  The mirror is my favorite audience.  It lets me see me like the audience does. If you practice your speech, you’ll get over the hurdle of not being sure what you want to say and how to deliver it.

To be prepared also means to do your homework.  Get your facts straight.  Make sure what you’re saying is what you’re supposed to be giving a speech about.  Get your data all together before you attempt to do much outlining or writing your speech.  Know your subject as best you can for the speech at hand.

Third, don’t be afraid to use note cards, either 3x5 or 5x7. Outline your speech (not word for word) on the cards, and use them.  Refer to them as you’re speaking.  Be confident as you use your cards too.  Realize that it is ok to use notes.  Glance down at them with confidence, and then look back at your audience with equal confidence to deliver the message.   Whatever you do, DO NOT read your speech if you can at all avoid it.  This bores and insults most audiences.

There may be a few times when it is ok to read a speech word for word, but not often.  Testifying in front of a governing body may be one, and presenting scientific data to a bunch of other scientists may be another.  But for most volunteers, leading other volunteers, note cards are the way to go.

public speaking

Truthfully, even when I’m submitting written comments at an official meeting of some sort, I would rather verbally summarize them rather than read them word for word. I think a lot of folks dislike being read to.

Fourth, and this is probably the most important trick I can pass along to you, use this simple rule for outlining/writing your speech: Tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them. I cannot think of a case where this won’t work!

The first part of this rule, “tell them what you’re going to tell them,” is like your introduction.   It’s like the table of contents of a book.  It lays out what is to come so as to capture their attention and give the point of you giving a talk. The second part, “tell them,” is the body of your speech.  This is where you deliver your message. The last part, “tell them what you told them,” is the summary.  Wrap it up and hit the key messages one more time.

Now let’s take an example of a speech to show you how this comes together. Assume I’m going to give a speech about how to give a speech.  I know how to do it, so I don’t need to do any homework as part of my preparation.  I also know I’ll be nervous but to get over it, I just make sure I practice my speech several times in front of a mirror before I have to give it. I also like to eat a light meal before giving a speech so my tummy has something to keep it settled down. Now I outline my speech on my 5x7 cards. 

CARD 1: How to Give a speech.
Time/Place:  Calaveras Lions Club, Town hall, 9am, Friday.     

OPENING: (Tell them what I’m going to tell them)

BODY:  (Tell them)


CARD 2: How to Give a speech.
Time/Place:  Calaveras Lions Club, Town hall, 9am, Friday.     

SUMMARY: (Tell them what I’ve told them)

Don’t forget to leave some business cards.



Here’s what the speech would look like written out:

Good morning and thank you for having me here. I’m Del Albright with the BlueRibbon Coalition and I’ll be speaking today on how to give a speech.  I will give you four tips on how to successfully give a speech in public even though it may scare you worse than being audited by the IRS.

Successful public speaking boils down to 1) accepting being nervous; 2) being prepared; 3) having a good outline; and 4) using the formula.

Allow me to tell you a little about my public speaking experience.  I gave my first significant speech when I graduated from college 30 years ago and was chosen to be the Graduation Commencement Speaker.  Over the years, I have given over 3000 speeches in public, from groups as small as ten to crowds as large as a few thousand.  I feel I have mastered the techniques to successful public speaking and will share them with you today.

The first tip is to accept the fact you’ll most likely be nervous.  It’s only normal to be afraid of being in front of other people talking about something you’re supposed to be the expert on. Like any other fear, our best defense is to accept it and get over it.

The second tip is to be prepared.  (Blah, blah, etc.)

The third tip is to have a good outline of your speech and to use note cards. (Blah, blah, etc.)

The fourth tip is to use the rule or formula: Tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them.  (Blah, blah, etc)

In summary, I can attest to the fact that these four tips of 1) finding ways to get over and accept your nervousness; 2) being prepared; 3) having a good outline;  and 4) using the rule of “tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; and tell them what you’ve told them," will make your public speaking duties a lot easier.

Notice the first couple of paragraphs is the “tell them what you’re going to tell them” part with some introduction thrown in.  I’m also hoping to make a bit of a connection with the audience in the intro.   If I were speaking to a community service club, I might mention how I used to be in one and how much I admire people who volunteer their time for the good of the order.

If I were speaking to the local veterans club, I might mention that I am one, or that my Dad served during WWII, and how much I respect anyone who served their country. It helps to find connections like this during your intro.

But do not be phony. During the “tell them what you’re going to tell them” part, try to always be sincere. Sincerity will nearly always win over an audience. Show them the real you.  If you can tell a joke, do so.  If telling jokes mostly falls flat for you, skip the joke and tell them something about you.

The next several paragraphs are my messages, key points that I want to deliver.  This is the “tell them” part. Here is where the facts come in. 

Then the last paragraph is where I reiterate my four tips for public speaking so they go home with these thoughts in mind.  At least I hope that’s what they’ll remember.  Keep that in mind.  Your last paragraph is what they’ll remember about you and your speech.  This is the “tell them what you told them” part.  Make it a good one.

My granddaddy told me a couple things that I’ll never forget.  First, he always used to remind me that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Second, he told me that when it comes to talking in public, the last thing you say is the first thing the audience will remember later.

So what does this mean to a leader of volunteers?  Well, right off the bat I’m sure you’ve figured out that you need a good opening statement when giving a talk.  Be confident and tell them what you’re going to tell them. 

Next, leave the audience with a good impression and your key messages.  Be confident.  Deliver your summary and thank them for having you there. There are tons of good books on public speaking, and I spend quite a bit of time in RLTC and the hands-on workshop, VLLS, teaching public speaking because it is so important that we be able to articulate clearly what we love to do and why.

Lastly, if you really want to be a top notch public speaker, join a speech club or Toastmasters. Your local Toastmasters club can turn you into a public speaker faster than about anything I know of.


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