You are here

The Organized Public Speaker - You

Filed Under:
Publication Number: M0244

The How, What, and Why of Public Speaking

Groom Yourself as a Public Speaker and Enjoy Lifelong Dividends

The shakers and movers of this world are the men and women who convincingly get their ideas across to others. Seldom do people accomplish anything alone. People must communicate to eliminate the generation gaps, the cultural gaps, or the economic gaps.

It has been said, "Leadership must first express itself in speech. One must know how to ask for things, how to explain things, and how to speak persuasively enough to win the active support of others. Resourcefulness and adaptability in speech may be regarded as essential to success in every occupation."

When you master the art of making a good speech, presenting it with poise and charm or charisma, you will learn many things that will remain your lifelong assets. You will learn much about yourself and your best style of presentation. You will learn how to research and organize the facts about a topic and how to evaluate them in terms of significance and of importance to various audiences.

Though winning gives us a thrill...of greater importance is the trying, the learning, and the knowledge gained. How effectively you communicate throughout your life will reflect in your home, your work, your community, and even your country.

How You Feel Communicates Itself to the Audience

How you look, how much you know about your subject, and how much you care about persuading your audience will affect your presentation.

How You Look
Get enough rest before your appearance, and eat sparingly. Wear attractive but comfortable clothing in which you are at ease. Good grooming is well worth the small investment of extra time it takes to help you make your best appearance.

Relax, smile, and take a deep breath before you begin. Look as if you're glad to be there! Establish eye contact constantly with all members of your audience. Use "body English"...natural, unaffected actions and gestures to punctuate the points you wish to emphasize.

What Do You Know About It?
If you're interested in your topic, your audience will be too; therefore, choose a topic that interests you so everything you learn about it will have extra meaning for you. Check with your 4-H youth leader or county Extension agent to determine the subject for your talk.

The 4-H story always needs retelling as the projects and programs change with the course of events. The basic 4-H philosophy is a timeless one, but it takes on new interpretations for each new generation.

Keep your posture erect but not stiff. You have often seen nervous speakers grip the mike, lean into it or lean away from it. Check out the public address system in advance and determine by testing the best distance from the mike, then speak into it. Some mikes are affected by metallic objects such as rings or watches coming too close to them; this is another potential disturbance factor you can check out in advance.

Mike fright or stage fright attacks the amateur and the seasoned performer at times. If you are nervous, breathe deeply and slowly several times just before you are introduced...or consciously relax your body, arms, and legs as much as possible. Stand erect, and walk briskly to the lectern. Try to appear confident, and speak loudly enough to be heard well throughout the room. If you smile often and communicate your friendliness, your audience probably will root for you.

Your speech will have three main parts...the introduction, in which you greet and warm up your audience, then stimulates their appetites for what you are about to tell them; secondly, the body of the speech, which is the main portion of your talk. Try not to have more than three to five main points; more might confuse you and your audience. The conclusion presents a brief summary of your main points. And you may find it effective to close on a high note with a poem, quotation, joke, surprise statement or challenge and, of course, a warm compliment to the audience.

  1. Introduction
    1. Opening
      1. Personal anecdote or
      2. Startling statement of fact or
      3. Quote or
      4. Poem or
      5. Appropriate joke or story
    2. Preview--Tell your audience (in capsule form) what you are going to cover in your talk
  2. Body
    1. The "meat and potatoes" of your public speaking assignment
      1. Speech patterns
      2. Past...present...future--in other words--problems...damage...solution
      3. Cause...effect...action needed
  3. Conclusion
    1. Summary
    2. Closing--Appeal for action from your audience (give, join, support, volunteer)

Once you've written your outline, read it to a friend or family member...or, if you can, try it out several ways on a cassette recorder/player. Check your presentation for its sequence, its transition, the logic of the central thought, the persuasiveness of your arguments, and the responses you want from your potential audiences. Make any necessary revisions to achieve your objective...that of communicating your big idea!

If you have the material well in mind, you may want to transfer your outline of the speech to 3 by 5 index cards. Knowing you have help close at hand will give you extra confidence. (Cards don't rattle, as papers frequently do, if your hands should shake a time or two.)

Act confidently, even if you don't feel that way, and the next thing you know you will be self-assured. Practice makes perfect. Your ability to clarify your thoughts and ideas and your ability to influence others will steadily improve with each public speaking engagement. Your confidence will grow, and you will learn to anticipate audience response to your planned pauses or whatever devices you use to keep your speech well-paced.

Your public speaking successes are based on the content of your talk and the delivery and its effect on the audience. Try rating yourself on the organization of your speech, your voice (variance of pitch and volume to avoid monotony), pronunciation, enunciation, grammar, timing, and use of notes.

The fuses may blow, the soup may spill, or a prop may drop or fail to work. Hundreds of so-called mishaps have happened to other speakers in other settings...and the quick-witted speaker will often turn the minor or real disaster to advantage. Do not panic...keep thinking, and you may become a "legend in your own time."

In more ways than one, certainly, it's your time to shine...but don't forget to be courteous to the chairperson, the other speakers, the sponsors, and the audience. They want to like you and they will, if you keep their needs in mind. They want to be informed, inspired, and entertained...and you're there to do just that--not to go on an ego trip.

Hold up your head. Have your notes high enough for easy reading, but be sure you can see your audience and they can see you over the notes. Your eyes are also as important as your voice. Keep looking at the audience as much as possible. The floor and the ceiling are not views for your eyes! Even your notes merit your eyes as little as possible.

Your voice is you on this occasion. It must be heard, so don't let it be too low or too soft; on the other hand, don't let it become too loud. Speak distinctly and moderately fast. Think about what you are saying; stick to the time limits. Most people give their full attention for about 20 minutes. If you must speak longer, allow for a break on occasion and then repeat.

Check your mannerisms for things that may destroy your effectiveness. Don't repeat "and uh." Don't twirl your pen and pencil, twist your tie or your coat or jacket buttons, grip the podium as if it is supporting you, rub the back of your neck, or do any of the many things speakers sometimes do unconsciously when too absorbed in thoughts. People forget the impressions they might be projecting to others.

Technical subjects are often easier to communicate when you use audio or visual aids. Demonstrations with commonplace materials may help your audience understand a process, and the "props" might grab their attention. Listed are some visual aids to consider in making your public speaking presentation.

  • Flannel, magnet, or loop board--use letters 1 to 2 inches high, ¼ of an inch thick; use graphics easily seen and understood from a distance of 30 to 40 feet.
  • Chalk board--lettering 1½ to 2 inches high and as thick as can be made with soft white chalk.
  • Easel pad, flip charts--letters 1½ to 2 inches high, ¼ of an inch thick; use graphics easily readable from 30 to 40 feet.

These suggested visual aids are best for talks and demonstrations for groups of 35 or fewer.

  • Photographs--8 by 10 or larger with matte finish. Exhibit where the audience can get close.
  • Slides--keep lettering to 5 lines, 15 to 20 letters per line on original. Use close-up with long and medium shots for real thing.
  • Overhead transparency--keep lettering ½ of an inch high on the transparency. Use in talks for medium-sized groups.
  • Video--keep lettering to 5 lines, 15 to 20 letters per line on original. Use close-up with long and medium shots of real thing. Use in talks and demonstrations for larger groups.
  • Real things or models--some visual aids have limited use due to variations in size. Check each usage. Talks and demonstrations for small groups.


Introduce the speaker by first and last name and give an overview of the speaker's affiliation. Tell where he/she came from and where he/she lives. Briefly, tell the qualifications relating to the subject as well as any unusual fact that might get the audience's attention. Give the topic to be presented to the audience; provide a brief statement that will give the audience a sense of anticipation.


Tell why the honor/award is being presented, by whom it is being awarded, and the basis on which the honoree was selected. Mention other specific accomplishments of the honoree and the influence this person's actions has on others. Build anticipation for the presentation, then announce the honoree. Present the award, congratulate the recipient, and step away from the podium or microphone so the recipient may acknowledge the presentation. Do not comment on the recipient's speech, mannerisms, or appearance, even jokingly. Emphasize the symbolic and inspirational meaning of the award or gift!


Appreciation is the keynote of an acceptance speech. Thank the person presenting the gift, the honor, or donor organization. Express gratitude to those who helped you win the award or those who placed you in position to achieve it. Express your regard for the significance of the award and for the responsibility it places on you to continue to live up to it. Express your thanks again briefly in closing.

Extemporaneous Speeches

Whether predictable or unpredictable, the extemporaneous speech is delivered in the same manner as a prepared speech, except you probably will want to confine yourself to one main idea or point. Often you can use what someone else has just said as a takeoff point, immediately identifying you with the audience.Remember. You are "never totally unprepared." All of your life experiences can prepare you for this moment. By being natural, relying on your own or your friends' experiences, or connecting the occasion with your current reading, TV viewing, or radio listening, you always have a wealth of "material" at the tip of your tongue.


Committe reports are usually limited to 3 minutes according to the bylaws of many organizations. Still, more brief reports are in order if the meeting's agenda is lengthy. Present your complete reports in writing; distribute the report after you have read it to the group. (Distributing the report before you speak gives your audience an opportunity to read it instead of listening to you!)

Sample Openings

A personal narrative is a good opening for a speech. A relevant story helps establish a common ground between your subject and your audience. For example, throughout the year, major televised events provide general interest to a wide range of audiences. Such events include baseball's World Series games, the Rose Bowl Parade from Pasadena, California, and football's Super Bowl.

Your opening comments could include a statement such as the following: "Last week as I watched the final game of the World Series, I noted the stands packed with avid fans. Millions of individuals like myself were watching the game on TV, and I thought, 'how wonderful it would be if as much attention could be brought to the subject I am to present to you today.'"

A startling statement can capture the audience's attention. For example: "Crime costs the United States of America billions of dollars a year. This could be reduced by fully one-half if we would streamline our judicial system and demand that the laws apply equally to the rich and to the poor."

A quote is effective. For example: "In 1887, Lord Acton wrote to Bishop Mandell Creighton: 'Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.' Shall we now examine this statement as it applies to our current situation?"

An appropriate joke or story can capture your audience's attention quickly. Here's an example: "A young Army lieutenant we heard about recently was having his first experience in drilling a company of men. He marched them to the right and to the right again, and suddenly he found they were marching straight for the edge of a cliff. All the commands deserted him; he could not think of the command to turn them about and back toward safety. As he stood there in panicked silence, one of the men in the company called out, "Say something, Lieutenant, even if it's only good-bye."

"Before I say 'good-bye' to you today, I have a few stories and comments to share. I am here to talk to you on the subject of __________________."

Closing With a Quote

For example: "I would like to leave you this thought expressed by John Dewey: 'What each parent wants for his children, must the entire community want for all children?'"

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Mississippi State University Extension Service is working to ensure all web content is accessible to all users. If you need assistance accessing any of our content, please email the webteam or call 662-325-2262.

Select Your County Office

Related Publications

Publication Number: P3638
Publication Number: IS1697
Publication Number: P2229
Publication Number: M2031
Publication Number: F0636