Tuesday, Jul 27th

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Delivering Your Speech

Expression and delivery

When you communicate with an audience, your ideas are transmitted through the medium of speech. The reaction from the audience gives you feedback, letting you know how well your speech is getting across. In the process of this communication, some of the meaning that you have in your mind – both simple meaning and the more ambiguous or emotive meaning in your speech – is lost.

Let’s look at the ways that you can minimise this loss, making sure that the entire meaning gets across to the audience. Remember that it’s difficult to gauge the style of your speech while you’re delivering it. Try to record your speech and play it back, so that you can hear it in the way that your audience will, and use the following tips to improve your delivery.


Make sure you are speaking loudly enough to be heard, but not so loud that an audience can’t take in your words.

Pace and clarity

Make sure that you speak at a rate that can be easily followed and clearly enunciate your words so that an audience can understand them.

Tone and pause
Vary the way you use your voice to break up your sound. An audience will ‘tune out’ from a monotonous participant, so change your pitch and speed as you move from section to section.

Body language

Much of our communication is nonverbal. Make sure that your body is making ‘open’ gestures, like facing forward and using your arms freely to gesture (but not over gesture) in support of your words. Avoid ‘closed’ gestures like folding your arms, turning away or hanging your head.

Facial expressions and eye contact

Your face is even more important than your body. The members of the audience need to feel that you are speaking to them. Make eye contact with as many people as possible. You need to convince them that you are confident in what you are saying, so smile and both you and the audience will be at ease.


There are different styles of speech, and different styles work well in different situations. Presenting an argument, which you seek to discredit with humour, in a sarcastic tone is likely to be effective, whereas a more detailed point, which you seek to discredit, is best dealt with in as reasonable a tone as possible. Also, moving between styles during your speech, depending on the argument, makes the speech more accessible to an audience. No one enjoys five minutes of angry shouting, nor do they enjoy five minutes of sombre argument; but a combination of the two is almost always effective.


Make sure that you are using words that everyone in the audience can understand. Although all your audiences will speak English, we each use language in a different way, and we have to be careful not to slip into colloquialisms and slang that may exclude part or all of the audience. Try to preference clarity over ornate rhetoric. While it might be tempting to use lofty language, when preparing your speech remember that doing so can often undermine the clarity of your speech.


It can be tempting, if you have spent a long time researching a topic, to use a lot of technical words in your speech, or to refer to things by abbreviations or unfamiliar titles. Remember that your audience will probably not have your level of knowledge on the subject, so always explain these things in ordinary language. If in doubt, ask a friend who is unfamiliar with the topic if they would understand the word if used in a speech.

Word choice

English is full of synonyms (two or more different words that refer to the same idea, object or concept). Different words often conjure up different versions of that same idea, object or concept people’s minds. Examine public speeches in media and take note of the way they choose their language. Does the US government refer to insurgents as “freedom fighters” or “terrorists”? Do animal rights campaigners refer to cattle farmers as “agricultural workers” or “murderers”?


Try to use language consistently throughout your speech. You will be presenting a lot of contentto your audience in a short period of time. The consistent use of language will increase The clarity of your speech. Finally, avoid using extreme rhetoric. Your aim is to persuade a reasonably unpartisan audience, not to rally a crowd of like-minds, so while it’s important to use language that supports your case, it’s also important to use it in such a way that seemsreasonable.

A note on notes

Earlier, we advised you to use a few clear key words as your speaking notes, rather than writing out your whole speech or trying to memorise it in its entirety. One advantage of speaking from notes and constructing each of your individual sentences afresh each time you speak is that the speech retains a sense of novelty and reality. It is all too easy for members of the audience to get the impression, if you are reciting your speech for the tenth time, that your engagement is with your memory or words and not with the audience. Know what each of your points is going to be. Know your introduction and conclusion well. However, don’t over-rehearse the main body of your speech to such an extent that you lose that vital connection with it or start to become bored with it.

Remember, it’s all about getting and keeping credibility!

Top tips for confidence

Know what you are going to say and have clear and easy-to-follow notes in front of you.

  • Know your first sentence off by heart.
  • Breathe in before your first sentence and speak while breathing outwards. You will find that your voice projects much further and it is easy to capture the audience’s attention
  • Avoid wearing uncomfortable clothes or distracting jewellery. Tie your hair back if necessary.
  • Have a sip of water before you go up to speak. Keep the glass near at hand.
  • Breathe deeply, using your diaphragm, not your chest (your stomach should move out if you are doing it right).
  • Start clearly and loudly from the very first word.
  • Make eye contact with the audience from the start. If you are too nervous to do that, look at the middle of their foreheads. They won’t be able to tell the difference!
  • If you stumble over a sentence, or momentarily forget what you were going to say, don’t try to talk your way out of it. Just stop, have a drink of water or simply pause, breathe deeply and start again.
  • Smile at the audience. They are not hostile.
  • Relax and enjoy yourself. Having a whole room of people listen to you is a rare experience and can be exhilarating!

Answering Questions

Most ‘real world’ public speakers will, at some point, be faced with questions about what they have said. They need to be able to answer those questions confidently, reinforcing or defending their original statement, or clarifying their original statement where it has been misunderstood or taken out of context.

As part of the competition, each speaker’s ability to answer questions is tested. At the end of each speech, audience members and adjudicators are invited to put brief questions to the speaker. These may ask for clarification or expansion on a point, or seek to know the speaker’s views on a related issue not covered in their speech. Although questions are not meant to be combative, they may sometimes ask the speaker to justify their views. Participants should take note of the following tips for answering questions:

  • Before your speech, think what questions are likely to be asked and consider how you might answer them.
  • Don’t be tempted to simply answer the question you had prepared. Always remember to answer the question that was actually asked.
  • Use the time in which the question is being asked to start formulating your answer. Don’t be afraid to pause before answering. You do not have to rush into an immediate response.
  • Do not feel that you have to say a lot to answer a question. Some of the best answers are very short. You should not spend more than one minute answering a question.
  • Although some questions may ask you to further explain, defend or justify your views, avoid becoming defensive or starting a debate with the questioner. Answer the question as well as you can and thank the questioner for their comments and for giving you the opportunity to clarify your point.