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3 Speeches to Inspire Your Own Public Speaking

Watch these three highly effective public speakers to learn valuable tips for delivering your own dynamic address.

9/29/2020 | Communication, Featured | 9 minute read

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Harvard Professional Development

Delivering a speech can cause even the most confident among us to break a sweat. But there are many strategies you can use to deliver a speech with poise, confidence, and conviction.

Instructor Marjorie North shares with us three of the most effective ways to strengthen your public speaking skills. Watch these inspiring videos to see how each of these techniques is applied so you can practice them yourself.

1. Pay Attention to Your Delivery

Watch how powerfully Donovan Livingston's enthusiasm, energy, and purpose affects this Harvard Graduate School of Education student speech.

Donovan Livingston's Harvard Graduate School of Education graduation speech

When preparing and delivering a speech, it's easy to focus on your words.

Yet how you deliver those words is equally important.

Nonverbal skills such as eye contact, facial expressions, body posture, and hand gestures can enhance your speech, or undermine it.

For instance, Livingston's nonverbal communications during this speech clearly demonstrate his comfort on the stage, his knowledge of his subject, and most importantly, his passion.

He smiles and makes eye contact with his audience. His facial expressions, especially at key moments, reflect the intensity of his words. His body is relaxed and his hand gestures subtly keep the audience focused.

How can you make sure that your nonverbal communication skills are on point? The answer is practice, practice, and then more practice.

Practice your speech until you can deliver it without reading it.

Practice using different techniques that allow you to observe and solidify the nonverbal elements of the speech. Watch yourself in the mirror. Film yourself and then study the film. Practice in front of family, friends, or trusted colleagues.

And be sure to ask for constructive feedback on how your nonverbal communication made them feel about your subject.

2. Structure Your Message

Listen to how an admiral takes the task of making your bed from a mundane chore to something you’ll feel empowered to do through a pristinely structured message.

This admiral's inspiring speech will convince you to make your bed every morning, via Business Insider

A well structured speech will help keep your audience engaged and interested.

When planning the structure of your speech, think logically about what you want your audience to take away from your speech. What do you want them to remember?

Be sure those critical take-aways are stated clearly and repeated often. All other details and information throughout the speech should relate back to your main point.

Most speeches have three main parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion.

The introduction is where you connect with your audience and outline your topic.

Tell your audience what you are going to talk about and why it matters. Your opener should be powerful, catchy, or funny—but also brief.

The body is where you include all your supporting evidence and build intensity.

In the body, you can structure your supporting details topically, chronologically, spatially, by cause-and-effect, or point-counterpoint. Yet however you choose to organize them, make sure they are relevant, limited in number, and easy to understand. Use transition words and phrases to let your audience know that you are moving from point to point.

The conclusion is where you remind your audience about the big picture: Why your subject is important. Don't be afraid to repeat exactly what you want them to remember. And then leave them with a powerful metaphor or a quote, or challenge them to think about what your subject means for them.

3. Connect with Your Audience

Observe how JK Rowling cleverly connects to her audience in the opening of her 2008 Harvard Commencement speech. She reveals her fear about delivering the speech, then manages to turn the situation into a moment of connection as she and her audience laugh together.

JK Rowling delivers the 2008 Harvard Commencement speech

A good public speaker—like JK Rowling—will start by establishing a positive rapport between herself and her audience.

After all, the more your audience likes you, the more they will tune in to what you have to say. And the more your audience understands why your topic is important—to you and to them—the more attentive they will be.

How can you create a connection with your audience? Here are just a few tips:

  • Smile and make eye contact with your audience. Remember your nonverbal communication skills!
  • Tell jokes and be funny, if you can. But be careful: Humor can easily turn offensive or fall flat if you don't know your audience.
  • Be self deprecating. You are the best source of humor, as JK Rowling shows. By making fun of yourself, you let the audience see that you don't take yourself too seriously.
  • Keep the tone conversational. If possible, try to make your audience feel as if you were speaking to them one on one.
  • Share personal experiences and use storytelling to illustrate your main points. Again, however, always make sure your story is relevant and don't be afraid to cut out extraneous detail to keep your story on point.

And above all, be authentic! Letting the audience get to know the real you will make your story, and your message, even more meaningful and memorable.

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