Giving a Great Speech That Motivates & Inspires: Public Speaking Tips

By on Monday, January 20, 2014

Giving a great speech that motivates and inspires is not easy. It requires finesse, tact, and knowledge. It’s easy when you work for a cause, to assume that giving a speech will be easier if you are passionate about the topic. After all, this isn’t your tenth grade English class where you’ve been tasked to write a speech about something that bores you. Rather, you are planning to talk about a topic that excites you and that you advocate for. Yet why do so many communicators who care about causes and organizations, give terrible speeches?

Public speaking may be the number one fear in America, but that fear doesn’t seem to motivate people to prepare before giving a speech. Sometimes I think a terrible speech happens, because a nonprofit leader is too busy to adequately prepare. Sometimes bad speeches happen because a nonprofit leader is surprised and offered a microphone with an unexpected “opportunity to say a few words.” Sometimes a bad speech happens, because the speaker just wings it, has never trained or prepared to deliver a speech, and completely obliterates time limitations and other issues.

Personally, public speaking is a skill I did not learn easily. I had some disastrous speaking engagements as nonprofiteer while in college. I was asked to speak at a large church for our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, as the church was making a sizeable donation. I wrote a rough outline, but truly did not practice well enough for the job. Standing at the podium and looking out at the hundreds of faces, I was petrified. I repeated to myself – they are on your side, they want you to do well, this is a friendly crowd. I so desperately wanted to convey how touching their donation was and how it would be put to good use to eliminate substandard housing and help families in our community. So I started speaking – my voice getting stronger as I went. Yet my body seemed not to believe my voice. My hands sweated and shook. The lights felt hot on my face. At one point, I thought I might pass out and clutched the podium sides. The heavy podium actually rocked. I survived the speech and sat down in the pew. People came up to me afterward and said how moving my words had been and how touched they were. I was shocked that my message had made it through. But I was appalled by my jitters and nerves. Then I realized – my jitters and nerves were way more obvious to me than they were to the audience. While I hadn’t completely crashed and burned, that experience made me resolve to do better. My heart was in it, but clearly, my delivery style and preparation needed help.

With practice and mentoring, I improved. Here are a few tips to help your speech delivery:

1. Know your audience. How many people will you be talking to? What do they care about and want to know about?

2. Know your venue. How big is the room? Will there be a podium, handheld microphone, lavalier, etc.?

3. Know the program. Where will you fit in the program? What happens before you and after you? Are you the last thing between these people and food or the door? Know your time limitations.  What do the event organizers want for you to focus your remarks on?

4. Make one key point in your speech. Your remarks can have plenty of supporting information, but really, stick with one key point.

5. Tell a story that goes behind the numbers. Sometimes in the nonprofit sector, we feel the need to shock and awe people with a lot of numbers about the problems we are tackling. Sometimes those numbers – especially if they are about the great societal problems that we are facing and trying to address – are very defeating and depressing. Numbers are important, but if you can help the audience understand how the life of one person was changed or improved by your agency, then you can help that audience understand how many other lives are impacted. Tell the story of one person, then how your organization is helping more people (use your service numbers), and ask the audience to help while giving them concrete examples of ways to help.

6. Know your own limitations. Often people work for causes because they are personally touched in some way. Your personal story may be very powerful, but be aware of your own triggers and limitations. Sometimes your personal story has been told before, or another story is more appropriate for the situation. Be able to set aside your own ego and select the content that is most compelling for the audience. Sometimes sharing your own story stirs trauma for you. You may have to prepare more and practice more, or have other supports in place, if you think your own issues may bubble to the surface. For me personally – I know that when I talk about my brother’s death in Iraq and our journey through grief since his death in certain settings – I have to prepare a bit more. I need to write out my speech, rehearse it, and be prepared. It’s not something I can wing, because my emotions can be a little unpredictable.

7. Always give the audience ways to engage and help. Outline ways for the audience to help and engage with the cause. Perhaps that is signing up for a newsletter, or donating funds for a special project or following the organization on Facebook and Twitter. Invite them into the community of caring that you are building around a cause.

8. Write out and rehearse your remarks. You may benefit from writing out your remarks and rehearing them. After you rehearse, try to gel down your key points to bullet points on note cards. It’s especially important that you time your remarks so you can stay within the time limit.

9. Get support from someone you respect. If you truly are concerned about your delivery, get some mentoring or coaching help. Invite your colleagues to observe a practice run in the conference room or over  a brown bag lunch. Practice will help you build your confidence level.

Additional resources
Toastmasters International – free resources
How to Give a Great Speech (Forbes)
Ten Tips for Delivering a Great Speech

Talk to Us: What tips do you have to offer about giving a great speech? How do you get psyched up to give an inspiring speech? Share below.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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