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How to Prepare for a Speech (Part 2)

Preparation is without doubt the most important element to a successful presentation, and the best way to reduce nervousness and combat fear. This blog post series is designed for people seeking a comprehensive, simple guide for preparing a speech or presentation. It takes the reader through a process which begins by defining the audience, and concludes with some last minute tips for the day of the speech itself.

Prepare for a Speech

Preparing for a Speech

Part 1 in this 3 part series examined the speech writing phase – creating an outline, deciding on good content, and putting it all together to produce a well structured speech. Catchup on part 1 here.

In this article (part 2) you’ll take a draft speech and discuss how to make an impact, by adding pauses, body cues, gestures and vocal variety. Let’s continue with step 6!

6) Add Rhetorical Devices

Adding rhetorical devices to a speech is a technical process and can be very effective when done correctly. The rhetorical devices you could consider adding to your speech include specific sounds (alliteration or assonance), metaphors and similes or indeed some repetition of key words and phrases. Here are some suggestions:

  • Alliteration: repetition of the same sound at the beginning of nearby words
  • Assonance: repetition of the same vowel sound in nearby words
  • Onomatopoeia: a word which imitates the sound of itself
  • Anaphora: repetition of a word or phrase at the start of successive sentences
  • Epistrophe: repetition of a word or phrase a the end of successive sentences
  • Personification: giving human qualities to abstract ideas or inanimate objects
  • Metaphor: a comparison of two seemingly unlike things
  • Simile: same as metaphor, but using either “like” or “as”

Prepare for a Speech

To apply any of these features to your speech, you’ll need to revisit step 5 and make the necessary edits where you feel these techniques can easily be applied. For example you could add some alliteration to an opening sentence, or personify one of the key points in the body of the speech. It’s all about about fine-tuning and careful selection.

7) Add Vocal Variety

Up next is vocal variety. It is useful to think in terms of the 4 Ps: Pace, Pitch, Power, and Pauses. Let’s work through each of these in turn:

  • Pace: simply the rate you are speaking, usually measured in words per minute. Varying pace throughout the speech adds great interest. The most common ways of varying pace are to speed up or slow down
  • Pitch: the frequency of the sound you emit. A simple way to hit different pitch points in a speech is to play with different emotions. For example an excited voice will sound completely different from a sad voice
  • Power: essentially volume. At a minimum, you must ensure that the entire audience can easily hear you without straining. Power and pitch go hand in hand. An angry sounding voice will be louder, a sad sounding voice will be quieter and so on. Turning your volume up or down adds interest
  • Pauses: there are many opportunities in any speech to introduce a couple of pauses. A simply way to include them is to add short pauses at the end of each sentence and longer pauses at the end of each section

Some further editing of the speech (see step 5) will be required in tandem with this part of preparation. As you write, edit, and rewrite your speech, you should include some words or phrases that will naturally allow you to vary your voice in each of the four P categories above.

The most important thing to remember is that you should deliver your speech in a way that feels comfortable for you. If something doesn’t feel natural, don’t force it because it won’t look natural and the audience will know that you’re not being your authentic self.

8) Master Visual Communication

When highlighting the parts of your speech suitable for vocal variety you should also consider opportunities to showcase your visual communication including:

  1. Eye contact
  2. Gestures

In terms of communicating a message, after your voice, your eyes are the most powerful tool. When you speak, your eyes function as a control device. Simply by looking at people, you have an influence on their attentiveness and concentration. You have the opportunity to make your presentation direct, personal, and conversational.

You can achieve this by following the aptly titled ‘Making a Friend’ technique…

  1. Observe the selection of people scattered throughout the room
  2. Look for those who are responding. The best people are the ones smiling, nodding or just “getting it”. Give each section of the room equal time and energy
  3. Focus initially on one person, talking to him or her personally. Treat it like a one-on-one conversation, where you would tend to stand closer to people you care about
  4. Hold the person’s eyes long enough to establish a bond – perhaps three to five seconds, or the time required to say a sentence or share one thought
  5. Then shift your gaze to another person. And repeat…

Prepare for a Speech

A gesture is defined as a movement of the hand, arm, body, head, or face that is expressive of an idea, opinion, or emotion. When delivering a speech your body language should look natural and be consistent with the meaning of what’s being said.

For example there are many ways of using your arms, hands and facial expressions to highlight a core message. By being expressive with gestures your voice will come alive and the speech will turn into a performance that your audience enjoys. Your audience will then become more attentive to your message.

To be most effective, gestures should be made above the elbow and away from the body. They should be full and varied rather than partial and repetitious. Some examples of gestures include:

  1. Lifting both hands outwards with the palms up
  2. Raising the arm and one outstretched finger into the air
  3. Clenching of one or both fists
  4. One or two hands placed on the hip
  5. Wrinkling of the face, eyes, nose

With so many other things to consider when delivering a speech, it can be difficult to focus on the visual communication you use. That is why planning body language in advance is such an important part of preparing for a speech. Learn more about mastering body language in a separate series here.

Now What?

If you have followed the steps up until now the speech which you are about to deliver should be close to perfect! You will have taken the draft speech crafted in part 1, added some rhetorical devices where appropriate, and then considered vocal variety and body language as you prepare to deliver the speech.

In the next article (part 3) you will learn techniques for practising the delivery and develop a plan for the final hours and minutes leading up to the speech (see here).