Thirteen tips for giving a well-organized and informative speech

Being organized can make a positive impact when giving a speech. If you’re disorganized and ill-prepared, your audience is likely to not pay attention and get very little from the information you provide. Conversely, a well-practiced and orderly speech will keep your audience interested and leave your audience members glad they took the time to hear your insights.

If you have a fear of speaking in front of people, I highly recommend taking a speech class or joining your local Toastmasters. If you’re simply looking for some pointers for creating a more organized presentation, try these 13 tips:

  1. You need to be providing an average of one piece of information (or more) for every minute of your speech for your audience to believe that you were worth their time. Think of really good stand-up comics — they are amazing at what they do and they deliver punch lines every 10 to 15 seconds. (Time a Jim Gaffigan routine and you’ll see what I mean. He averages a laugh almost every six seconds.) In a 30 minute speech, you’ll likely only get in 30 memorable pieces of information.
  2. At all points while you’re drafting your speech, consider your audience. You’re not trying to impress them, you’re there to help them. You’re a teacher, not a promoter. Think about what your audience will want to know, and then think of the best way to transfer these 30, 45, or 60 pieces of information. Provide examples, real world situations where they can use the knowledge you’re giving them. Although you’ll be nervous, the speech has very little to do with you and everything to do with the audience.
  3. Once you know what your audience wishes to learn and what points you want to teach them, organize the information in a way that makes learning the information easiest. You don’t have to be funny or the best speaker the audience has ever encountered, you just have to help them to learn information to the very best of your abilities.
  4. When you draft what you want to say, don’t write it out word for word. Outline the important points (those 30, 45, or 60 points mentioned previously) you wish to cover, your introduction and your conclusion, but stop there. If you write it out completely, you’ll sound like you’re reciting a speech instead of having a conversation with your audience.
  5. Bring an outline of your speech with you to set on a table or rest on the podium. If you’ve practiced sufficiently, you won’t need it, but you’ll feel more comfortable with it being there. Plus, if you actually forget, you won’t let down your audience because you’ll have it there.
  6. When most people are nervous, they will want to talk faster than they usually do. Fight this instinct with all your might. Either that, or prepare 35 minutes worth of content for a 30 minute speech. If you don’t speed up when you’re nervous, disregard this item.
  7. Practice, practice, practice. Give the talk to your spouse or a close friend. Give the talk to a video camera. You’ll feel more awkward giving the speech to someone you know well and a video camera than you will to a room full of strangers. If you can get to a point in your practice where you feel okay with giving the speech to your someone you’re close to and a video camera, you’ll rock it when it’s time to give the real presentation.
  8. Get out from behind the podium and make eye contact with your audience. Again, since your goal is to educate your audience, you want to be able to see their faces and make certain that they’re understanding what you’re trying to teach them.
  9. If you are not accustom to speaking publicly, identify at the beginning of your speech that you’ll be taking questions at the end of your speech. This way, you won’t get off track. Then, leave enough time at the end of your speech for questions.
  10. When answering questions at the end of your speech, rephrase questions at the beginning of your answer in case not everyone in the audience could hear the question (“Bob is wanting to know if X is the reason Y exists.”). You may be the only person in the room with access to a microphone.
  11. Be sincere. Don’t put into a speech information that you don’t know backward and forward. Knowing the topic extremely well will help reduce your fears because you’re already comfortable speaking about the subject. When there are questions at the end of your speech, you want to make sure that you’ll know the answer. Again, you’re there to teach.
  12. During your conclusion, let people know how they can get into touch with you after your speech. There will be additional questions and they might not develop until a few days after the audience has had time to sit with what you’ve told them.
  13. Also at the end of your speech, thank people for choosing to come and listen to you. Even if people don’t feel like they learned a lot in your presentation, they will remember you as someone who wanted to help and was generous. This positive attitude typically leads to more speaking gigs.

As long as you are a well-rehearsed authentic educator, it will be easy for you to stay organized throughout your presentation and deliver a valuable speech for your audience.

12 Comments for “Thirteen tips for giving a well-organized and informative speech”

  1. posted by Rachel on

    Thanks for the lovely Toastmasters shout-out, Erin! (I am a club president this year, so I have to say that.)

    I agree that for most speakers is better not to write out an entire speech word-for-word. However, I do think it’s important for beginning speakers to think about how they will transition from one point to the next. Having strong transitions helps hold the speech together and make it flow smoothly, and if you’ve practiced the transitions a lot, they can also help you if you lose your place.

  2. posted by Leslie on

    Flashback to college speech classes. I wish the instructors had presented tips in such an easy to understand manner. Thanks. This is useful for communication in meetings AND even when talking to my physician.

  3. posted by Vikki on

    I’m an area governor for my district. Toastmasters is the way to go. I’ve gotten a lot out of my club.

    When I mentor someone, I always recommend that they memorize their opening line(s) and their closing line(s) because the opening line is what will grab the attention of the audience and the closing line is what they will remember.

  4. posted by Anita on

    Excellent tips. I would add one which, for me, makes the difference between a good speaker and a memorable speaker: involve your audience.

    No matter how good of a speaker you are, no matter how well you present your material, and no matter how good the information you’re presenting, if you go on longer than 10 minutes, people’s minds will start to wander. By interacting with your audience, you’ll get them to stay on track longer.

    It doesn’t have to be elaborate; just a question here or there to check they’re still with you. For example, if you’re presenting an online tool, ask how many people have used it or something similar. If your audience seems receptive, ask what they thought of it. Then move on with your presentation. Have a few of these interactions throughout your presentation too keep everyone focused and make them feel included.

  5. posted by pkilmain on

    I did a second college degree as a 40 somthing adult, and had to repeat the speech class I’d gotten a D in as a 17 year old college freshman. (It was enough to get credit for having taken it, not for transferring credits.) I couldn’t believe how much easier it was even though I hadn’t really done much public speaking in the intervening years, just grown-up a lot!

    Something that helped me get more comfortable with speaking in public, after taking the speech class was to teach CPR in the community school program. It’s much easier to talk about something you know. (I was a volunteer EMT at the time.) Another way to keep your hand in, so to speak, is to volunteer as an officer for some organization you belong to. Standing up in front of the group can be a little intimidating at the beginning, but you know from experience that it’s a sympathetic audience, and you’re talking about something you know.

  6. posted by Jen on

    I have gotten a lot of compliments on my public speaking skills, and I attribute it to all the lesson plans I had to do when I was studying education in college. My personal approach is to be succinct, have an outline, and practice it out loud several times (preferably in front of someone). If I find that I stumble over parts of the speech, I will write down key words or phrases on the outline that I need to use to smooth it out. Keep your speech at an even, steady keel, but don’t use more words than you have to, and avoid “uummm” and “uuhhhh” as much as possible.

  7. posted by Ashley S.C. Walls on

    GREAT tips! Thanks for the reminders. And Jen, thanks for reminding us about the “uuummmmm” and “uuhhhh”.

  8. posted by Gary on

    How about a sound check to make sure people in the back can hear? This is more important for speeches without a microphone that has been previously checked by the Audio/Visual team.

    Most of the public speaking I have had to do has been in medium-sized conference rooms at the office that never have (working) mics and are also often plagued by rattling air conditioning vents.

    It could be worth it to do a quick “Can everybody hear me okay?” and make sure the people furthest away are nodding their heads yes.

  9. posted by Silas on

    I go for the 5-15-45 approach.

    Each part of my teaching presentation (which is at most 3 to 4 key ideas) needs to scale. So, for each of those ideas, I have a 5 minute summary of the info, a 15 minute brief description, and a 45 minute long description.

    That way, if you’ve got students who you can tell have ‘clicked’, you can just hit them with the 5 minute version, or if they’re not understanding, you’ve got a hour-long TV show worth of material to fall back on.

    Plus, having to pare things down for 5 minute chunks makes you really prioritize your topics, so you know what you can do without if time is not gentle with you.

  10. posted by Amy on

    I mostly agree with the tips, but I think there is a more useful way to think about the amount of information you’re communicating than the 30 things (or 45, or 60) approach.

    In conference talks, the biggest flaw I see is trying to cover too much information and overwhelming the audience to the point where they tune out. Cognitively, we just aren’t able to retain 30 pieces of information from a 30 minute talk. Instead, think about telling a story (or a couple of related stories). You’ll see that the stand-up comics do this too! They may have 5 jokes a minute, but for a whole routine, they’ll probably only cover a couple of story lines that tie the jokes together.

    For a 30-45 minute talk, I have at most 3 major take-home messages to get across. Each of those messages may have a number of supporting points, so there’s still plenty of information, but that information is just there to weave a narrative that will drive home the take-home message.

    I also agree with Anita about the critical role of interaction with the audience. Give them a little task to do or a question to think about. It really breaks things up and keeps people engaged.

  11. posted by Garland on

    I’m a writer and nonprofit exec who, in my previous life, wrote speeches and remarks for politicians. One in particular was bad about “ummm” and “uhhhh.” A speech professional I worked with on a political campaign told me that’s the mark of the brain processing (or spooling, for you computer geeks). As the brain thinks, our desire for verbal continuity kicks in (nature abhors a vacuum and all that). This candidate learned to, as he searched for the correct words, stay silent and either refer to his notes, make eye contact, or stare over the heads of audience members (very poignant!) instead of using um or uh. The pacing of his speeches greatly improved when the verbal distractions disappeared, and it only took a little practice for him to master the technique.

  12. posted by Chris Pallé on

    Thanks, Erin! These tips are excellent. I second the notion of joining a local Toastmasters. I’ve recently become involved with one and it’s a huge help.

    Point 7 stood out in particular for me. It’s almost counter-intuitive, but it really is true: We have a tendency to care more about the people with whom we’re close. Obviously not to say we don’t care about our audience, but it is more challenging to give a presentation to a spouse (especially if they’re not familiar with the subject) as they’re likely to be more comfortable with picking out each and every opportunity for critique.
    And the camera, well, watching yourself stumble, hum, haw, and forget stuff is just plain masochistically brutal, but *so* valuable!

    Again, thanks for sharing!

    Chris

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