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How to become an effective public speaker

Composing your speech

Writing a speech is not the same as writing an article. No ironclad rule dictates how you should prepare your speech. The only goal is to make sure you are prepared to talk to your audience in a manner that is easily understandable. One useful method of structuring a talk is the "topic method." The speech is broken down into a series of smaller topics or sections in outline form, and each section is a miniature speech in itself, which can be written and learned separately.

It is easier to keep this list of topics in mind, and have them written down as an outline, than to think of the address as a whole. On the platform, you start on number one and continue on that point while your thoughts last. If you think that you are grinding to a halt, then you can jump to the next topic. The audience will not realize that something has been left out, so it isn't necessary to disrupt the whole speech trying to insert a forgotten fact.

Some speakers prefer to list the topics and then to put flesh on those bones. Others can't work this way. They prefer to develop an entire theme before going on to the next. Whatever the technique, the end product can be sorted into sections for use on the platform. This will help you construct the argument in a logical way, as each step develops from the last.

Using this basic structure, and with your target audience in mind, choose one or two key themes or arguments that you want to make sure you get across clearly. Then you need to set forward your arguments with facts to back them up and articles from and the International Socialist Review both provide indispensable information to help support your arguments. Writing a talk should not be an agonizing experience when the ISOs publications provide you with the all the research necessary.

When it comes to drafting your speech, the ideas must come through strong and clear. At every stage, check that what you've written is relevant. Make sure that you are telling a story, and remember that all good stories have a beginning, middle, and an end. After a long or complicated point, it often helps to illustrate the point by a simple story or joke, but make sure it is simple and based on the common experience of the audience.

One fault of many speakers is to include too much detail, which leaves everyone's head spinning full of statistics, percentages, and government reports. Another common fault is the use of jargon or technical words without explanation. Beware of assuming that your audience already knows the ins and outs of the US left, Russian revolutionary history, government policies or agencies, etc.

One final point: A sentence may look like a work of art on paper, but in a speech, long, complicated sentences and paragraphs will only confuse matters. Keep it simple and straightforward. Practicing out loud will help you identify which sentences or phrases won't work when you're on the platform. It will also help you get a sense of how long your presentation will take to deliver. Another common mistake to avoid is trying to cram too much material into too short a timeframe. If you practice beforehand, you'll find out if your twenty minute speech will really take forty minutes to deliver, and you'll be able to work on cutting it down before the meeting, before the pressure is on.

Delivering your speech

Unless your memory is truly extraordinary it will be impossible to remember the whole speech. A speech is really a series of small topics and can be remembered as such. Don't read or recite what is in front of you. Say it out loud as naturally and conversationally as possible. It is important that your voice varies. When it is time to face the audience, address the back rows of the room. This will make sure that everyone can hear vou. During the speech, there is no need to panic if you dry up on one section, or forget a part. Stop and look at your notes, pause, and continue.

And on the other hand, if you get a sudden burst of inspiration and depart from your notes, just pick up where you left off. Be aware of time, however -- it's all too easy to go off on a tangent for longer than you realize, and then find yourself needing to cut your talk on the fly at the end of your allotted time.

Lastly, there are useful tips on public speaking available for free on the Toastmasters website.

Discussion after your speech: For many speakers, the most terrifying moment of the meeting comes when it is time to answer questions. Remember, the audience is basically on your side, and any hostile or aggressive questioner will not have their sympathy. You should answer any question in a good-humored, natural way.

If you are stuck, it is often useful to refer back to your speech. If one particular question really floors you, then don't be afraid to say that you are not sure what you think. No one should expect you to have all the answers to every question. It is always better to be honest than try to bamboozle the audience. Whatever you decide the final score was on the evening's performance, it will be much easier the next time.