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How to Give a Great Speech… If You Suck at Speaking!

So, you have to give a presentation, whether it is 30 seconds or 30 minutes, in front of a crowd, and it is part of your job description.

You certainly didn’t ASK to do it, and you really didn’t WANT to do it, but you have to do it.

How do you give a great speech…if you suck at speaking?

Ok, let’s get all of the pre-speech jitters out of the way by giving you the good news. Nobody wants you to give a bad speech. Everybody in the audience is going to be rooting for you to give a great speech, to present something interesting…in an interesting way. They WANT you to be good.

Next, if you have a little bit of preparation time, you can give yourself an advantage, even if it is just a little one, over everyone else that will be speaking. Here’s how to do that.

1) Know your audience.

If you are going to be speaking to rowdy college kids, you are going to have a completely different approach than if you are giving a speech to potential investors at a senior citizens home. Know your audience. Know what they are expecting.

2) Know your time.

Are you going to be speaking for 30 seconds? Or 30 minutes? Here’s a great tip; it’s better to be a little short than to go over. If you are speaking at a function and they are expecting you to give a 30 minute speech, you won’t hurt anyone’s feelings by ending up at 25 minutes. If you go long…don’t expect to be invited back. (At the same time, if you are asked to give a 30 minute speech, and you only speak for 5 minutes, you haven’t quite done your job.)

3) Know your end,

and build your speech to get there.

4) Write your speech.

Write every word, every syllable, and every punctuation mark. In every sentence, there will be one word that you want to stress. Decide which word that is, and practice emphasizing it. You might want to underline or otherwise mark that word in that sentence so that you can do it the right way every time.

5) Use pauses effectively.

A pause can create tension, create expectation, and have the audience engaged in your speech…if you do it the right way.

6) Record your speech.

If you have a space holder (Uh, umm, eh, or mmh, or any other verbal space saver, eliminate it.) If you need to have a space holder to catch your breath, insert silence. NOBODY loves an umm. It doesn’t make you sound smarter, more prepared, or more professional. If you are practicing with a speech partner, have them give a negative re-inforcement every time that you say “umm”. (Once you have trained yourself to slow down, and eliminate space holders, you are a professional speaker. Until you do so, you are a bumbling amateur. So, make it happen. If you have to get zapped with a taser every time you use an “Ummm” by your speech partner, that might be the price that you have to pay.)

7) Listen to your speech, and watch yourself give it.

By recording your practice sessions, you can get better quickly. Most smart phones have a video camera feature. Use it. Practice. If it is painful to watch yourself speak, it will be painful to others. Practice. Improve. Practice again.

8) Have great content.

Research it extensively. Then organize your research in a way that is interesting. If the topic has been done 5 billion times, come up with a new approach, or don’t do it. If you can’t come up with a new approach, make it, at the very least, engaging.

9) Be engaging.

One of the best ways, EVER, to get someone engaged in a speech, is to ask them to take action. “Everyone here that has ever been terrified of giving a speech RAISE YOUR HAND!” When they take action, reward them, give them a verbal “attaboy”. When you reward people for taking the action that you want them to take, they will feel good about doing it, and want to do it again. So, give them a couple of actions at the start of the speech, and then sprinkle in a few actions and rewards throughout the speech. Then, thank them for taking the action. If you honestly and sincerely appreciate people, they will feel it, and they will appreciate you, and feel engaged. If you insult the crowd, and jeer at them, you will lose them completely.

10) Deliver the speech.

You will have done research on your audience, so you will know who is in your crowd. You will know the amount of time that you have to speak, so you will have adjusted your speech to that time, and you will KNOW that you will not go over. (Have a friend in the audience give you a signal when you are at 5 minutes, ten minutes, etc, and then when you have five minutes to go, one minute to go, and when your time is up. In comedy clubs, you have a green light, a yellow light, and a red light, all invisible to the audience, that let you know your time.) Or, you can look at the clock. If there is no clock, having a friend is helpful.

Finally, you will deliver great content, in a way that is engaging, and you will give the audience verbal affirmations all the way through the speech so that they feel rewarded, and appreciated. At the end, if you thank them for their attention and time, they will reward you…with applause.

Here’s a list of no-no’s.

1) Uhm’s.

If you have a tendency to say “Uhm”, practice with a partner until you have stopped doing it. It’s a habit, so it will be difficult, but you can do it. If you avoid "umming" and "Ahhing" you will have a much better speech.

2) Slow down.

People listen slower than you talk. Practice speaking slower, taking pauses, and breathing.

3) Don’t give statistics, give stories.

When you give a parable, story, or illustration, people will remember that longer than any statistic. If you can weave your statistic into the story, people will remember that forever.

4) Don’t look at your notes.

You don’t want to read your speech. You can, however, have bullet points on paper, to help you keep track of where you are. President Teddy Roosevelt used to always have his speech written down on several sheets of paper, which he then rolled up like a newspaper, and used as a stick to pound home the points of his speeches.

5) Dress the part.

If you dress like a slob, people will not grant you credibility. Look at the most respected presenters of information. Sports casters, preachers, and politicians. What do they wear? A coat and tie. Should that be a hint for you?

6) Don’t sweat. It’s just a talk.

What’s the worst that can happen? If you forget a line, you are probably going to be the only one that knows that you missed it. If you feel confident, you will be confident. Breathe deeply, smile, and get started. Don’t stop and start over. Keep on going through. If you make a mistake, keep moving.

7) Don’t forget to thank the person that invited you.

When you show gratitude to a person that the audience likes, they will like you. Also, it’s the right thing to do.

8) Don’t forget the lagniappe.

Lagnaippe is a French word that means, “A little something extra”. Always end your talk with a memorable button that the audience can take home with them. Keep it short, memorable, and applicable.

9) Don’t forget to tell your audience what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.

Another way to look at this is to give them a mission statement, your content, and a summary.

10) Don’t lie to them.

If you tell your audience you are going to talk about gadgets, don’t talk about gizmos. You can talk about anything you want at the start of the talk, but once you tell them what you are going to talk about…talk about it. If you don’t, they will be waiting for you to fill your promise. If you don’t keep your promise, you will have lost them forever.

Have you got it?

Slow down. Take your time. Enunciate and articulate. Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and tell them what you said. You might just enjoy it.

Reed Sawyer is a Subject Matter Expert and co-Founder at and a senior editor at

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