May 31, 2018

Dear Inexperienced Speaker: What You MUST Do To Succeed

(The importance of finding the right topic, structuring your talk and the right way to practice)
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Jeremiah Buabeng, Ghanaian motivational speaker and corporate trainer, says the best advice he can give to a novice public speaker are these three words: “Practice, practice, practice!”

You are probably asking: How do I practice when I am only a beginner? Read on for the answer.

How to choose your topic

Take a topic you are very familiar with and just speak about it. That simple? Yes. That simple. The key to performing well in public speaking is to talk on topics about which you know a great deal.

Anything that you are familiar with is rich material for a speech even if you haven’t spoken in public before. And everyone knows a lot about one particular subject - themselves. So take a piece of paper and write down everything you know about yourself. You can get ideas from the following categories:

Your family
Your home
Your hobbies and interests
Things that annoy you
Your heroes
Your beliefs
Your business

After you decide what to speak on, choose what aspect of the topic you would like to tackle. A topic like your family is a huge one. Will you talk about your nuclear family? Your extended family? The importance of family? The impact of your parents’ divorce on you? How you were affected when a family member passed on?

Narrow your subject down until you can make two of three points about it in your speech. Remember the first speech you make will not be very long, possibly two to three minutes.

How to structure your talk

Once you have decided on your topic, you will need to structure the talk. Every coherent speech has a beginning, a middle part and an end.

The beginning introduces the topic of your speech and tells the audience what to expect from you. The middle part will develop whatever points you highlighted in the beginning. Finally the end will summarize the points you developed in the middle. And that basically is your little speech all laid out and ready for you to practice it.

How to practice your talk

Practicing your speech requires you to remember its key points. To speak effectively you have to maintain eye contact with your audience and not read your speech verbatim. The way to achieve this is to write brief notes on a small card to remind you of what to say. Imagine you have to give a talk on your family. These could be your notes:

Begin: Topic: importance of family
Middle: impact: 1. Parents; 2. siblings
End: What parents, siblings mean to me

When you glance at the card, you will be reminded of the points to make. This method will remind you to focus on the ideas you want to convey instead of keeping you forcing you to remember exact sentences had you written the speech out in full. This method also enables you to interact with your audience better by maintaining eye contact with them.

Should you practice alone?

I suggest you practice with an audience. Even if it is just one person. Speeches are meant to be heard by an audience. If you practice alone, how will you get feedback from your listeners? Practicing in front of people will initially make you uncomfortable but try to relax by breathing deeply and slowly. Remember, everybody feels uneasy in a new situation so you are not alone.

Consider your practice sessions to be a form of inoculation against stage fright. The more you can practice in front of people, the less likely you will be to suffer from nerves on the day of your performance.

How often should you practice?

Some speakers use the formula of one hour for every minute that you have to speak. So if you have a three minute talk to deliver, you must practice for at least three hours. I recommend this ratio. The truth is you can never be over-prepared for a public speaking performance. The more practice you put in, the more confident you will be on the day.

Summary of 4 key points

So there you have it. Even as a total beginner, you can practice speaking in public. Here are the four things to remember:

1. Find a topic you know a great deal about
2. Structure your talk
3. Practice in front of an audience
4. Practice often

I wish you success. And in the words of Jeremiah Buabeng: “Practice, practice, practice!”

Kafui Dey is the author of Public Speaking A to Z and How to MC Any Event.

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