How to Give Your First Speech
Carl R. Burgchardt**
Introduction Fortunately, giving your first speech sounds a lot harder than it is . . . The purpose of this pamphlet is to provide the information you need to do a good job on this assignment: how to select a topic, how to focus your speech, how to make your speech more interesting, how to organize your speech, how to prepare and practice your speech, how to behave during the presentation, and how to cope with stage fright. How do I select a topic? There are many other approaches to the initial speech. . . No matter what the assignment for your introductory speech, do your best to understand precisely what your teacher requires. In order to do well in the course, you must fulfill the speaking assignments exactly. If something is unclear about the expectations for your speech, be sure to ask for clarification. How do I focus my speech? Whether your instructor assigns a specific topic or provides a number of options, you will need to gather material to include in your talk. After you have settled on a particular subject, be certain the focus of your speech is narrow enough to conform to the time limit. One of the most common mistakes students make on their first speech is to try to cover too much material. Not only does this cause the speech to go over the time limit, but it results in content that is too general or superficial. So you should select a limited amount of focused material that is illustrated thoroughly. How can I make my speech more interesting? You should strive to make your introductory speech as creative and interesting as possible. But how do you select material that will please the audience? We know from experience that certain general traits tend to make a compelling speech. While your talk need not include all of these traits, it would be helpful if it incorporated some of them. . . . [A] way to make a speech interesting is to use colorful, descriptive language that appeals to your audience's senses. . . .Colorful and concrete illustrations are invariably more interesting in a speech than dull language and abstract generalizations.
Students often ask about using humor to make their speeches more interesting. Audiences love witty remarks, jokes, and funny situations, but humor is only effective when done well. It should flow naturally out of the content of the speech, rather than being contrived. 1
If you are not normally a funny person, you are better off giving a sincere, enthusiastic speech and leaving the jokes out. All speakers should refrain from humor that is tasteless or not directly relevant to the topic. It almost goes without saying that you should avoid jokes that embarrass specific individuals or negatively stereotype groups of people. The best kind of humor pokes fun at ourselves or at universal human foibles. Everyone in the audience will be able to enjoy that kind of humor. Now to give your first speech Regardless of the subject, your speech will have three main parts-an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. What should a good introduction do? First, it needs to engage the attention and interest of the audience. You can attract your classmates' attention simply by walking to the front of the room and beginning to speak in a loud voice. The hard part is arousing their interest. Your first few sentences are vitally important. There are many methods you can use in the opening lines of a speech to engage the interest of your audience. You can tell a story, state the significance of your topic, open with a quotation, pose a question, present a startling fact or statistic, or relate how the topic affects the audience directly. The purpose of all these methods is to create a dramatic, colorful opening that will make your audience want to hear more. In addition to gaining attention and interest, the introduction should orient your audience toward the subject matter of your speech. In longer speeches, your introduction might need to add...
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