How to…..Speak in public

Our ‘How To’ series is developed to help start/develop your justice and peace group and are all available on the resources page.

4. How to speak in public
A good speaker persuades, informs, inspires and entertains.

Decide what you want to say, how you are going to say it and what reaction you want from your audience.

Make a rough plan of the major points to mention in the talk.   Don’t write out the whole talk and read it because this will be very boring for listeners.

Prepare your opening and closing remarks very well and memorise them.   Don’t open or close apologetically or overstate your case.

Use personal experience, stories, or something topical or local wherever possible to prompt interest. Over-use of statistics can be very boring.

Believe passionately in what you have to say and aim to enjoy yourself.

Before an important talk, quietly instruct the subconscious mind to look after you, clear your mind of worries and picture yourself as a positive, successful speaker.

Research your topic so that you are confident with it and if possible find out:

  • The size of your audience
  • Its average age
  • Any likely difficulties
  • Particular points of interest to the audience.

Don’t take yourself too seriously and remember – a speech is not a matter of life or death!

Don’t exceed the time allotted for your talk as this will antagonise the people who invited you.

Be sensitive to your audience and amend the content and length if they seem to be getting bored or annoyed.

Know what you want to say and say it clearly. ‘Hmm’s’, ‘um’s’, coughs and ‘you know’s’ are all signs that you are not sure what to say.

Try to speak with confidence and fairly slowly without gabbling words.

Speak up because people will become bored if they have to strain to hear you.

Vary your pitch and speed to provide variety. Silences and pauses can be very effective.

Use ordinary spoken English and avoid literary turns of phrase.

Define terms that may confuse. Give full titles of organisations you refer to, at least initially, rather than sets of initials which maybe unfamiliar to the audience.

Try not to be over-emotional because you will put people off. Be reasonable, steady and good-humoured.

Some fear is essential to keep the adrenaline flowing but will distract the audience if you are very obviously nervous. Look relaxed and smile as often as possible. Remember the audience feels good will towards you and will be embarrassed if you are clearly not in control. Make eye contact with as many people as possible. (Don’t focus on one person only).

Try not to distract your audience by fidgeting or shuffling your feet.

Speaking in Church
Find out how you are going to be introduced and where you will be sitting. Discuss what you intend to say with the priest to see if he has any comments. You may be mentioning a few topics which have been covered in the parish recently.

Make sure your dress is appropriate to the occasion. Examine the place you are to speak from in terms of:

  • Being heard – test the microphone if there is one
  • Being seen
  • Somewhere to put your notes
  • Lighting so that you can see your notes

In Catholic churches, you may be asked to speak at the homily time, or you may be assigned the time after communion. If the latter, cut down the talk because people do not expect a long input at that time. Try to avoid speaking at the very end of Mass because people do not listen well at this time and some will probably leave.

It is useful to imagine you are attempting to communicate with a person in the far corner of the church. Avoid touching the microphone and do not drop your voice at the end of the sentence or turn your head away from the microphone.

Use visual imagery – and better still use visual objects. They are an enormous help and rarely used by the clergy. Children particularly respond well to specific examples.

Make a few simple points and do not be afraid of repetition. An old principle of preaching is:

  • Tell them what you are going to tell them
  • Tell them
  • Tell them what you’ve told them

The beginning and ending are important – have these carefully worked out. It is often easier to end with a quotation summing up what has been said.

Remember to thank the priest publicly for the opportunity to speak – this establishes the official nature of the talk.

Towards the end refer to any follow-up meetings. Make it clear that you can discuss and answer questions after Mass and refer to any literature to be handed out.

Try not to depend on more than a few written headings. Even if the full text has to be written out, do not read it or you will lose your listeners.

It is not always easy to be light-hearted about justice and development issues – but smile and be cheerful. This means being relaxed which depends on being confident about what you are going to say and that it is worth hearing.

A talk must not last more than ten minutes (and is better shorter rather than longer).

Possible Introductions
The question:
to make an audience think. The question should be carefully chosen and the more dramatic and unusual it is the better. The facts: to catch the audience’s attention quickly, and appeal to their intelligence.
The quotation: to appeal to the imagination and allow them to associate themselves with the sentiments of a famous person.
The joke: to capture the audience’s attention and make them laugh and relax.
The shock: to wake up an apathetic audience.
The personal touch: to strike up a personal relationship with an audience. Tell them about yourself or add some local colour to make them aware that you know something about them and their lives.

Possible Endings
In addition to any of the above you can:
Summarise: to round off the speech decisively.
Call to action: to stimulate a definite response.
Explain the options: to conclude on a reasoned note.