Guide to Public Speaking

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Guide to Public Speaking

Speaking publically, in front of other people, is a skill that you will often be called to utilize. But, many people cite public speaking as their top fear, way above getting struck by lightening or bitten by a snake. The way past this fear is increased knowledge of public speaking, how to prepare, and present and effective oral presentation. Dr. John's Guide to Public Speaking can help.

Delivering A Speech

Delivery Methods
  • Manuscript
    Prepared statement, often sounds lifeless, too detailed, best to use this style "for the record" or for media releases.
  • Memorized
    Can break down, can increase stagefright/nervousness, makes statement appear memorized.
  • Extemporaneous
    Best style, most effective. Memorize key points only, make brief notes, concentrate on getting the main points across and filling in the gaps with your own thoughts/words.
  • Impromptu
    Unexpected/unprepared, "off the cuff," your opinion, speaking about a subject you are familiar with. Be sure and present a definite viewpoint early on.
Prepare with Confidence
  • Accept a certain amount of nervousness, you can't eliminate it all. The butterflies never go away, but you can get them to fly in formation.
  • Speak often, at every opportunity. Practice builds confidence.
  • Rehearse your speech, especially the introduction and conclusion, 3-6 times.
  • Think rationally about your presentation. Don't make it any more difficult by embellishing it with extra stigmas.
  • Remember: the bedrock of a successful speech is preparation.
Deliver your Speech
  • Step up to speak with an air of confidence.
  • Establish eye contact with the audience immediately and speak with enthusiasm—grab their attention.
  • Begin your speech without referring to your notes—make that important initial connection with your audience. But make sure your attention getter relates to your topic! Attention grabbers include
    • "A Captivating Statement"
    • "A Statistical Display"
    • "Quotations"
    • "Humor"
    • "A Visual Attention Getter"
  • Stand with good posture—don't fidget or pace.
  • Speak loudly enough to be heard by everyone present—try to keep "ums" and "uhs" to a minimum.
  • Speak without dysfunctions.
  • Use proper vocabulary.
  • Enunciate clearly.
  • Vary the inflection, pitch, and volume of your voice somewhat during the course of your presentation—no dull monotones.
  • Don't emphasize or apologize for your mistakes.
  • Keep your attention focused on the topic and on the audience until you are actually finished—this includes the question and answer period.
  • Don't pack up early; don't be in a rush to get back to your seat.
  • When finished, move out confidently.
Embellish your Speech
  • Visual aids
  • Audio aids
  • Role playing skits
  • Humor
Avoid These Pitfalls
  • Avoid loaded or emotional language—respect your audience.
  • Avoid generalizations that don't clearly and directly address your topic.
  • Avoid diversions that turn attention away from main point and focus it on some matter that is not relevant.
  • Avoid emotional appeals to pity or fear.
End your Speech Effectively
  • Tell your audience that you are ending your speech—"So, in conclusion..."
  • End with a story that illustrates the main points of your speech.
  • End with a quotation or a memorable phrase that sums up your topic.
  • End with an example of your theme—examples sum up presentations in layman's terms.
  • End with a rhetorical question.
  • End with conviction—don't let your enthusiasm dimish, the audience will feel let down.
  • End with a summarization of your main ideas—encapsulate the main ideas of your presentation, don't introduce new material.
Handle Questions and Answers Effectively
  • Determine the most effective time for questions—during or after your speech?
  • Start the ball rolling—ask a question and answer it.
  • Anticipate likely questions and be prepared with an answer.
  • Repeat and clarify each question so that audience understands it.
  • Treat questioners with respect, even the hostile one.
  • Keep the situation focused. Answer questions within the theme of your speech. Answer only the questions you feel confident about knowing the answer to, refer questions outside your area of expertise to others.
  • Buy time whenever necessary—"I don't know the answer but I'll find out and get back with you."

Select A Topic

  • Select a topic you care about
  • Select a topic you know a lot about (or can learn about). Audience loses respect for you if they know they know more than you.
  • Select a topic that interests your audience. Audience analysis.
General Purpose

Generally, the general purpose of your speech will be to

  • Inform
    Goal: Have audience learn/remember new information
  • Persuade
    Goal: Change minds or behavior
  • Entertain
    Goal: Provide your audience with a pleasant experience
Specific Purpose Statement

Prepare a Specific Purpose Statement for your speech. The Specific Purpose Statement has two functions
(1). To Narrow
(2). To Focus

Whatever the function, the Specific Purpose Statement should state exactly what you want to accomplish in your speech.

  • Begin with infinitive "to"
    "To" (inform, persuade, entertain)
  • Include reference to audience
    "To inform my audience..."
  • Limit statement to one major idea
  • Make statement as precise as possible
  • Make sure your purpose can be met in the allotted time
  • Don't be too technical
Central Idea

Your central idea is the basic message of your speech. It is

  • What the audience goes away with
  • What they should remember even if they forget everything else

About your central idea . . .

  • It controls your speech
  • Use only one central idea per speech
  • Use your central idea to direct your research and help formulate your speech

There are three benefits to formulating your General Purpose and Specific Purpose Statements
(1). Saves you time
(2). Helps to focus your thoughts
(3). Helps to produce a better speech

Research your Topic
  • Library Resources
    • Books, periodicals, journals
    • Computer data bases
    • Librarians who might enjoy helping you
  • Interviews
    Be prepared, take notes/record
    Ask both prepared and spontaneous questions
  • Evaluate your sources
    Are they credible?
    Are they comprehensive?
    Are they understandable?
    Can they lead to other sources?

Organize your Speech

Why Organize?
  • In a speech there is no instant replay
  • If the audience fails to understand you, they are out of luck
  • A well organized speech promotes clear communication
Advantages of Organization
  • Easier to understand
  • Easier for audience to remember
  • More likely to be believed
How To Organize your Speech

Start with your Specific Purpose (the goal of your speech) and your Central Idea (the key concept you want to get across to your audience)

  • Ask yourself "How can I get my audience to believe my Central Idea?"
    The answer is to give them a few main points based on the Central Idea
  • Next, ask yourself, "How can I make these main points stick in the minds of my audience?"
    The answer is to back up each main point with support materials
Organize your Speech on Three Levels

(1). Topic (or Central Idea)
(2). Main Points
(3). Supporting Details

Main Points

Create your main points by asking these questions.

  • What is the Specific Purpose of my speech?
  • What is my Central Idea, the key concept that I want my audience to understand, believe, and remember?
  • What main points can I create to drive home the central idea?
  • What support details will I need under each main point to explain or prove it?
Discard irrelevant material. Refine your main points
  • Limit the number of main points—best to use at least three main points, but don't use more than five
  • Make sure all main points develop the central idea
  • Restrict each main point to a single idea
Organize your Main Points
  • Chronological Pattern—arrange main points in time sequence, good for dealing with periods of time in history
  • Spatial Pattern—arrange main points according to the way in which they relate to each other in physical space
  • Causal Pattern—tell your audience the effects of your subject, interest them, they will want to know the causes, and how to avoid them
  • Problem-Solution Pattern—divide speech into two parts: a statement of the problem and the a statement of the solution. This technique is good for persuasive speeches. You convince your audience that a problem exists, then tell them how to solve it.
  • Topical Pattern—divide your central idea into components or categories, or subdivide an idea by showing reasons for it. Emphatic order is often the best—save the best for last. Note: you must arrange your points in a logical pattern or audience will lose respect/interest.
Supporting Details
  • Supporting details develop and illustrate your ideas
  • Supporting details can clarify your ideas
  • Supporting details can make a speech more interesting
  • Supporting details help listeners remember Main Points
  • Supporting details help prove your assertions
Types of Supporting Details
  • Definitions—meanings of words, define your terms, sometimes informal definitions may be more effective (Example: Chutzpah is the kind of audacity and gall that a youngster would show if he killed both his parents and then demanded that the court be lenient to him because he was an orphan.)
  • Description—audience forms verbal pictures from your details
  • Examples—illustrate statements and back up generalities
  • Narratives—stories, people love stories
  • Comparison and Contrast—comparison shows how things are similar; contrast shows how things are different
  • Testimony—what knowledgeable people say about your subject, gives instant credibility
  • Statistics—numerical ways of expressing information

Supporting details must be relevant; they must support, explain, illustrate, or reinforce your central idea (your message). They cannot be thrown in simply to enliven your speech.


Every introduction serves two functions
(1). Secures your audience's attention and interest
(2). Prepares audience intellectually and psychologically for the body of your speech.

Ways To Get Attention
  • Relate a story that is relevant to central idea
  • Ask a question. There are two kinds
    (1). Rhetorical—you do not want or expect audience to answer
    (2). Overt-Response—you want audience to respond by raising hands or speaking out loud
Dangers of Asking Questions
  • Embarrassing or personal questions
  • "Loaded" questions
  • Overt-response may not be best for situation

To avoid these dangers, alert your audience to the type of question(s) you are asking

  • Cite a quotation
    Keep them short. Pause at end. If quotation is too short, repeat it
  • Arouse curiosity
  • Provide a visual aid or demonstration relevant to central idea
  • Give your audience an incentive to listen
    Show them how the topic relates to their personal lives, needs, wants, etc.
Orient your Audience
  • Preview the body of your speech
    State the central idea, state the main points. Giving a preview reassures your audience
  • Give background information
    Provide definitions, explanations, etc.
    Explain limitations of your speech, over come objections
  • Establish credibility
    Help audience appreciate your credentials; help them evaluate what you have to say
  • Don't prepare your introduction first; it may change after you develop body of speech
  • Make your introduction simple and easy to follow, but avoid making it to brief; allow audience a chance to "get into the groove" of your speech
  • Make sure that your introduction has direct and obvious tie-in with the body of your speech; introduction should relate to body of speech


Your conclusion is very important. It can either add to or subtract from your audience's opinion of your entire speech. Your conclusion may well determine the overall success of your speech.

Your Conclusion Does Three Things

(1). Signals the end of your speech
Audience needs sense of conclusion, sense of finality, sense that all the loose ends are tied up. Signal your conclusion by telling your audience that it is coming—say "in conclusion," raise your voice, intensify facial expressions and gestures.

(2). Summarizes key ideas
Attention of audience picks up when you signal conclusion, good opportunity to reinforce your message, good way to do this is by summarizing. Restatement of key ideas helpsaudience to remember them. Summary should be brief.

(3). Reinforces the Central Idea with A Clincher
Citing a quotation, issuing an appeal or challenge, giving an illustration, referring to the introduction.

  • Do not drag out the ending
  • Do not end weakly
  • Do not end apologetically—apologies make you look incompetent
  • Never bring in new main points

Informative Speeches

  • Report
    Describes the state of operations
  • Briefing
    Informs and helps others perform their duties
  • Explanation
    Increases one's understanding of a subject
  • Training
    Tells how to do something
  • Link topic with audience
    Give them a personal reason to listen
  • Start with the overall picture
    Connect your main points to the overall picture
  • Emphasize your main points
    Use effective transitions to signal when you are moving to each new main point, repeat your main points, or use multiple channels (verbal and visual) to make sure audience understands your main points
  • Link the familiar with the unfamiliar
    Use comparisons to help people to beter understand your point
  • Involve the audience
    Ask for a show of hands, stimulate questions and answers, ask for volunteers

Persuasive Speeches

  • Sales presentations
    Persuade others to buy
  • Proposals
    Plans for new projects, requests for resources, changes in polices and procedures
  • Motivational speeches
    Persuade others to action
  • Goodwill speeches
    Promote interest in a particular organization or concept
  • Appeal to a variety of the needs of your audience
  • Sell yourself as well as your idea—establish your credibility through your
    • Competence—audience is persuaded by someone they believe qualified in the subject. Demonstrate your credentials, ability, and knowledge.
    • Trustworthiness—be honest, audience more willing to accept an unbiased speaker than one who has a vested interest in the subject. Cite outside sources to add credibility.
    • Similarity—audiences are more willing to accept your arguments in your attitude and behavior are similar to their own.
    • Sincerity—speakers viewed as truly caring about their appeal are more persuasive
    • Attraction—listeners are persuaded by people they find attractive. Dress for the occasion, show respect to the audience, and consider their viewpoints.
  • Have a realistic purpose.
  • Focus your appeal on the critical audience segment—identify the leaders, the decision makers in the audience before preparing your speech. Be sure to anticipate their needs and questions.
Organizing your Persuasive Speech
  • Defer the thesis with a hostile audience? If your topic is controversial, or you anticipate a hostile audience, your speech might be more effective if you delay stating your thesis until near the end of your speech. Not stating your thesis in the beginning to a hostile audience may keep them interested and allow you to persuade them with your speech. Stating your thesis up front may make audience defensive and cause them to "tune out."
  • Use the best organizational pattern for the situation
    • Problem-Solution—state the problem and then show audience how it can be solved, how your solution will provide them with benefits. Stating problem helps motivate audience to find a solution. This is especially helpful in sales presentations.
    • Criteria Satisfaction—set up common criteria based on audience's needs, then show how criteria will be met, how your proposal will provide benefits to audience
    • Comparative Advantage—compare benefits of several proposals and then suggest the best possible solution (sometimes in a deferred thesis statement). This approach good when audience is considering another proposal but comparing it to yours.
  • Consider the use of opposing ideas—should you give only one or both sides of your argument? Should the other side be considered at all? f the audience disagrees with your position, if the audience knows both sides of the situation, or if your audience is intelligent and you have reason to believe that they may be made award of an opposing view, supply a weakened version of the opposition's argument and then refute it before the opposition has a chance to present their case. This is called the "inoculation effect" and has the effect of protecting your audience against the opposition views. Research indicates that the first communicator has the advantage. Take advantage of your advantage.

Listening and Comprehension

Importance of Listening

Since speeches are delivered orally, it is important to listen carefully to what the speaker says in order to understand the Central Idea. There are three models (perspectives) for listening comprehension
(1). Semantic perspective
(2). Pragmatic perspective
(3). Oral speech perspective

Semantic Perspective

Semantic perspective deal with short term retention of raw chunks of speech, identification of speech content and function, constructing propositions, grouping these propositions into coherent messages, long term retention of reconstructed propositional meanings.

Steps To Listening Comprehension
  • The listener takes in raw speech and holds an image of it in short term memory
  • An attempt is made to organize what was head into constituents (segments), identifying their content and function
  • As constituents are identified, they are used to construct propositions, grouping the propositions together to form a coherent message
  • Once the listener has identified and reconstructed the propositional meanings, these are held in long term memory, and the form in which the message was originally received is deleted (Clark and Clark 1977)
Pragmatic Perspective

The pragmatic perspective is based on the belief that there is an illocutionary force/meaning behind much of what we say.

Illocution = the message behind what we say.

Steps To Listening Comprehension
  • Determining the type of speech event the listener is involved in (conversation, debate, lecture, discussion, etc)
  • Recalling relevant script (what we know about a particular situation, and the goals, participants, and procedures which are commonly associated with them) for the particular speech event
  • Inferring the speaker's goals using the relevant script, reference to the situation, and the sequential position of the utterance
  • Determining the propositional meaning of the utterance
  • Determining the illocutionary meaning/force of the utterance (the message)
  • Retaining and responding to the received information, and the form in which the message was originally received is deleted
Oral Speech Perspective

The oral speech perspective deals with the various forms of the spoken medium the listener must deal with in order to comprehend speech. The act of speaking imposes a particular form on utterances, and this considerably affects how messages are understood. Factors which result from this are called medium factors.

Clausal Basis of Speech

The unit of organization in written communication is the sentence. In spoken communication, the unit of organization is the clause. Spoken information is generally delivered one clause at a time. Clauses appear to be a major constituent in both planning and delivery of speech. Coordinating conjunctions like "and" and "ums" are frequently used as coordinating or linking elements between clausal chunks of speech.

Reduced Forms (assimilation of words, sounds)

In articulating clauses, speakers are guided by their need to express meanings efficiently. This means that words that play a less crucial role in the message may be slurred or dropped, and other words given more prominence.

Ungrammatical Forms

Speech is often grammatically incorrect but the meaning is still understood. Due to the effort speakers put into planning and organizing the content of their utterances in ongoing time, grammaticality is often less relevant than the coherence of ideas. Coherence is more important than grammar. For example "Tony apples" is grammatically incorrect, but it conveys the message that Tony likes apples.

Pausing and Speech Errors

Pauses indicate speaker is planning and selecting. Pauses may be either "silent" or "filled." Filled pauses contain items like uh, oh, hmm, ah, well, say, sort of, just, kind of, I mean, you know, I think, I guess—all indicate speaker is searching for word, or an approximation of it, to connect two clausal chunks of speech.

Rate of Delivery

The impression of fast or slow delivery generally results from the amount of intraclausal pausing that speakers use. Frequent pauses create the impression of slow speech. Elimination of pauses creates the impression of rapid speech.

Rhythm and Stress

English is a rhythmic language. The stress placed on each word by the speaker is important for the listener's attempt to make meaning of the utterance. Listeners must be able to interpret words in stressed, mildly stressed, and unstressed forms, not merely in their ideal forms as listed in a dictionary.

Cohesive Devices

As in written communication there are mechanisms for marking grammatical ties within and between sentences. But in spoken communication, these markers may function differently than they do in written form. For example, in written form the meanings of the underlined markers are not clear but in spoken form they serve to tie together the clausal units of speech and help convey a meaning: "Well you know, there was this guy, and here we were talking about, you know, girls, and all that sort of thing . . . and here's what he says . . . "

Information Content

Since conversation involves both a speaker and a listener, meanings are constructed cooperatively. A speaker does not say everything he or she wants to say in a single burst. Information is added a little at a time, often by repeating what has been said before and then adding to it. Written discourse is planned, tightly organized, and generally the product of a single person. Spoken discourse is not preplanned, but is produced in ongoing time through mutual cooperation. Consequently, it presents meaning in a very different way from written discourse. Topics are developed gradually, and the conventions for topic development and topic shift are distinctive to the spoken register. Listeners must use clues like "talking about that, "reminds you of," "by the way," and "as far as that goes" to identify directions in topic development.


Conversation is interactive. The listener's presence is indicated by gestures, movement, gaze, and facial expressions. Both speaker and listener send a variety of verbal and nonverbal signals back and forth indicating attention, interest, understanding, or the lack of it.