My First Speech Experience
Like many people, by real public speaking journey started off at this organization called Toastmasters. But there was a speech that I had delivered before joining Toastmasters. Public speaking was something that always intrigued me. I used to think that if I can be confident on a stage, I can be confident anywhere!
I joined this local 5-day public speaking course. That’s where I gave my first speech. Ambitious (and naïve) as I was, my speech was something along the lines of “Finding yourself”. I tried to be amazingly flamboyant and charismatic and motivational and all those Les Brown things. But, as you would guess, the speech was horrible. Not that anyone said anything. But I knew it was.
It was in front of this small audience. These were all people who were part of this 5-day course, each more nervous than the other. When it was my turn to speak, I remember my legs shaking like a mad man. As I spoke, I realized I was pacing, I was eating up my words, I was missing my lines and those 4 minutes seemed like 400.
Despite this horrid experience, I now know how important that experience was. Because the net time I went on stage, I was a little more confident in myself. The time after that, I was a little more confident…and so it kept going.
And that’s the whole point! No matter how horrid your first speech goes, you are only getting better.
Cliché? I know. But it’s true.
Enough about me. Here are some things I wish I knew before delivering my first speech that might help you:
Keep It Simple
Rule number when it comes to speaking on stage especially if it’s your first time? Keep it simple! This is something my mentors advise me to this day, and I agree. Keeping your speech simple makes it consumable and leaves lesser room for errors.
One very valuable thing I learned from watching great speakers is – a speech does not have to be fancy to be effective. So, keep it simple!
Going back to the principle of keeping it simple, don’t try to make your content too glamourous. If it’s your first speech, try not do anything too motivational or preachy.
Sure, you have something to teach the audience that you know better than anyone else. But again, you don’t have to be preachy about it.
Here’s the thing, when we are new to the stage, the audience can sense it. And they are much more receiving to a speech that is more simple and humble as opposed someone who is trying to hard. Here are some small ways you can make your content “non-preachy”.
- Try to use humour in a self derogatory manner. It will help lighten the mood as well as bring the audience’s guard down.
- Acknowledge the audience. Thank them for taking out time from their lives to listen to your speech. It makes them feel that they are the ones giving you time instead of the other way around (which is true in many cases).
- Come prepared. The number one way to respect your audience is to show that you respect their time. And coming underprepared is downright disrespecting your audience’s time. I remember reading Chris Anderson’s TED book where he spoke about how one speaker came on to stage and started off his speech saying “While I was driving down here, I was thinking about what to say to you guys…” This is so off-putting! Unless you are someone really well recognized, this is just not cool. The audience is coming here to here an idea, to learn something. It’s only fair that you give them that by preparing.
Body language, like many things in public speaking, is very subjective to speakers. Each has their own style. Some pace from one end of the stage to another. Some move around in circles. Some standstill.
When you’re starting out, it’s best to stand still in my opinion. It makes things much less complicated. Moving on stage must be done purposefully, that is to say, each movement should mean something. And that can take some time to develop. I still tend to make the horrible mistake of pacing up and down the stage aimlessly while speaking and frankly, it’s hard not to.
So, start off standing still. If you do feel the urge to move, move a little here and there. Imagine you have an imaginary circular boundary around you that only allows you to move a few steps around you.
With your hands, you can keep them a little under your waist area and bring them up when you want to emphasis on a point.
Kind of like this (you can keep your hands a little lower as well):
Voice modulation plays a key role in delivering any effective speech. In the beginning, if you find it hard to vary your tone, then don’t. it’s alright to have a singular tone for now. Just try and emphasis on some words if possible to not sound very monotonous.
For example, if you have a sentence – “My mother left the room and slammed the door behind here.” – think about which word can you emphasis on here to add a little more variation and emotion to your speech. In this case, emphasizing on the word “slammed” will make the sentence so much more powerful!
Also, try adding some pauses to your speech. Pauses and a little bit of silence can go a long way in making a simple speech much more effective.
For example, if a line goes – “And I realized that every moment is perfect.” – adding a pause before the word “perfect” would make the sentence a lot more hard-hitting. Go through the speech that you have crafted.
See if there are any places where you can add some pauses to make your sentence more impactful.
Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.Malcolm Gladwell
This goes without saying. How much ever time you have before your speech, practice.
It’s ideal to start preparing 5 to 7 days in advance, but in case you don’t have much time, practice as much as you can. If possible, try practicing in front of another person, preferably someone who has some experience on stage.
If not, one of the most effective ways of practicing is by video recording yourself. It will immediately point out your most obvious errors. It’s a quick and easy way to troubleshoot in case you do not have someone to advise you on your speech.
If there is one thing to take away, and I bet all speakers would say this, if you have a shot at giving your first speech, take it! Even you have no time to prepare. Because no matter how bad it is, it only goes up from there.
How to Begin Your Speech
Now, when you’re delivering a speech for the first time, you must be wondering: How on earth do I start my speech?!
You’re not alone. I asked this question many-a-times (and still do!). The beginning is important. It’s what will set the tone for the rest of your speech.
While you can read How to NOT Start a Speech (And What You Can Do Instead) to get a deeper understanding on how to start your speech, here are a few tips:
Start your speech with any of these:
- A question: Starting off with a question is the simplest way to start your speech in a manner that immediately engages the audience.
- A hard-hitting statement: Statements that shock your audience is my favourite way to start a speech. I remember this one time, I saw a speaker start a speech with, “Last week, my best friend committed suicide.” And the entire crowd was gripped. Everyone could feel the tension in the room. They were just waiting for the speaker to continue to know where this speech will go.
- Imagination: Putting your audience in a state of imagination can work extremely well to captivate them. If done well, you can really help bring your audience in a certain mood that preps them for what’s about to come next.
- Start with silence: I’ve noticed some powerful openings start with nothing but a small pause. When you get on stage and wait for a few seconds, it allows the audience to settle in and adjust their attention towards you.
Don’t start your speech with a ‘Good Morning’. The problem with that is it does nothing for the audience. There’s no need for it. Everything you speak about, including your beginning, should be adding to your main point. Instead of starting with a “Good morning”, try thinking of something a little more intriguing to grip your audience.