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Words of Wisdom

Of all those arts in which the wise excel, Nature's chief masterpiece is writing well.

— Andre Breton



Megan: Got a ‘lil question for ya Ags: Have you ever had to give a speech, present in front of your class, or perform any other type of public speaking? You probably spent time organizing your points and preparing visual aids. You know you were well-prepared, but you were nervous about delivery- about making a mistake and looking ridiculous in front of everyone. Well, delivery can be nerve-wracking, but it doesn’t have to be. In this episode of Write Right, Kim and I will focus on providing tips to help your delivery be as effective as possible, and we’ll also look at examples of good and … not so good delivery.

Kim: Okay, the very first thing we are going to talk about is your voice. I have two words for you: slow down! This is a common problem for people giving speeches. And let’s face it, who doesn’t want to say what we have to say super fast so we can get out of the spotlight and away from all those eyes staring at us! When Take a deep breath and focus on communicating slowly and effectively.

Another thing to consider along with speed is pronunciation and articulation. If you are speaking as quickly as humanly possible, chances are your words are going to become slurred and unintelligible. Take time to pronounce every word carefully and clearly. But be careful, now that you have slowed your speech down, you’re at risk of putting your audience to sleep! If you speak in one flat tone the whole time, your audience won’t remember a word of your life-changing presentation. So, don’t yell, but amplify your voice so that you can be heard even in the back of the room. Remember, if you’re excited about what you’re saying, your audience will be too!

Oh, and one more thing. Try to avoid using vocal fillers such as “um” and “like.” If you, um, sound really unsure about, like, what you’re saying, nobody will believe you either! Instead of using a bunch of vocal fillers to cover up any silence in your speech, go ahead and use pauses for dramatic effect. [pause] Did you just say something that should change the life of your audience forever? Then let them have a moment to think it over. Pauses, strategically used, are excellent for making your audience think when you want them too.

The volume of your voice can also be controlled to create effect. Is the emotion of your presentation rising? Then raise your voice. Do you want your audience to strain to hear what you have to say? Then lower your voice. Use your volume as a tool to communicate the emotion behind what you are saying.

Megan: Also remember- effective delivery involves more than just your voice. Your facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, physical appearance, and general body movement are just as important. If you see a speaker who is using her hands too much, or a speaker who avoids eye contact, you’re not as likely to take what they’re saying seriously.

Sometimes a speaker can be described as having the “in-your-face” effect. She’s very enthusiastic and animated, but doesn’t know how to funnel her energy. Her body movements are a distraction. Instead, you want to use gestures to highlight points of your slide show and emphasize the content of your speech.

The other extreme can be referred to as the “talking-head effect.” This speaker is hesitant to use his body language and ends up standing in one place. If at all possible, avoid writing your speech out as a manuscript. You don’t want to become dependent on your notes and get the monotone voice that Kim was talking about earlier. When you prepare note cards, write down the main points that you’ll address. You can include specific names, statistics, and quotes, but you should be familiar enough with the rest of your speech to talk comfortably.

You also want to avoid nervous mechanisms, such as playing with your clothes, hair, or any props you have. If you need to, hold a small eraser or pen that you can squeeze and divert some of that nervous energy to. A speech is not a performance, so don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself. You want your audience to focus on your content.

Kim: Now that you know what the rest of your body should be doing, let’s talk about the most important part: your face! If you’re telling a joke or talking about something happy, don’t frown at your audience. You’re sending mixed signals about how you feel about what you’re talking about. It’s easy to have a blank expression on your face when you’re so focused on giving your presentation. The main thing is to make sure your facial expressions are natural and comfortable. And, since you’re an expert on your topic, it’s easy to express how you really feel about what you’re saying.

Another important facial feature we need to talk about is your eyes. One of the hardest things to do in public speaking is maintaining eye contact. If you’re shy or nervous, you might be tempted to look at the floor or the back wall or your note cards. Remember if you want to engage your audience, make direct eye contact with different people throughout your speech. Your sweeping glances across the room will keep the audience listening and paying attention, and will make them feel like you really want them to understand what you’re saying.

Megan: Last but not least, when you give your speech, be ready to be flexible. As you get audience feedback, you may end up changing what you had planned to say on the spot. If your audience seems bored with your speech, you can omit details and move faster. Or, if your audience seems confused, you’ll need to come up with more examples to clarify your points. This doesn’t mean that you were ill-prepared to begin with. It just means that you can easily adapt to your audience’s needs. Above all, show enthusiasm! Like we said earlier, the more excited you are about your topic, the more excited your audience will be too!

Good luck in all of your public speaking endeavors, Ags! We’re glad you joined us on Write Right. Thanks and Gig ‘Em!

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute The University Writing Center, Texas A&M University.

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