by Janelle Davis
Your instructor asks you to present on your research during the last day of class. Writing is something you are comfortable with, but public speaking? It gives you sweaty palms and rampant nerves.
The first thing to do when you’re staring down the long tunnel of a speech or presentation is to figure out exactly what the expectations are. There are several different types of speeches which are standard in public speaking, and each makes use of different skills and tools. The primary types of speeches, arranged from the smallest amount of preparation to the most, are impromptu, extemporaneous, and prepared/memorized.
In an impromptu speech, the speaker has little or no time to prepare and likely has no notes or visual aids. An impromptu speech does not make use of research or citations and is usually used as practice in getting comfortable speaking in front of others. If you are unexpectedly asked to speak for several minutes on any topic (from popular music to your own background to explaining a class reading), then you are giving an impromptu speech.
When giving an impromptu speech, the most important thing is to breathe slowly and remain calm; if you allow yourself to become too nervous, you will speak too quickly and risk stumbling over your own words, which can just perpetuate the vicious cycle of nervousness. Before you begin, take a moment to think about what you will say – if you can, give yourself a mental roadmap to follow. Speak at a pace slightly slower than conversation speed; this allows you time to think as you speak as well as making it easier for your audience to follow along.
You can practice impromptu speaking skills by picking random topics (mangos, a particular celebrity or political figure, or a favorite quote, or whatever) and speaking for three to five minutes without long pauses or getting derailed.
Extemporaneous speaking requires more preparation. You may need to do some research and create an outline of main ideas and sources. In preparing for this sort of speech, you will plan out the speech’s course ahead of time and memorize the gist of the points you will make, but the speech itself is never fully written out or memorized word for word. Instead, the skeleton is clearly set into memory and the details are adjusted (or extemporized!) on the fly.
This sort of speaking is ideal when you have a single core message but might present more than once to different audiences and want to be able to tailor the specifics of the speech to each audience’s interests, needs, or venue without having to worry about rewriting the whole thing and stumbling over changes. It is key that you be very familiar with the subject matter so you can rearrange details or key points as you go. Extemporaneous speeches sometimes make use of visual aids.
Practice extemporaneous speaking by working up an outline and then giving the speech in front of a mirror or to close friends; try shaking up the organization and testing out different hooks or stories for the introduction. Always remember to tie your conclusion back not only to your main arguments but also to your introductory hook in order to leave your audience feeling satisfied.
Prepared or Memorized Speeches
A prepared speech (also sometimes called a platform speech) has been written out in advance and memorized in its entirety. These speeches usually make use of research and oral citations to supplement their main points, which may be informative or persuasive in nature. They are also the most likely to use visual aids, including posters, demonstrations, artifacts, videos, or PowerPoint slides.
There are a variety of methods for memorizing speeches of any length, but the most important technique is to rehearse the speech in its entirety as many times as possible.
And there you have it! The different levels of preparedness necessary to prepare your speech, all laid out for your reading pleasure. If this doesn’t address all of your questions, don’t worry – keep an eye out for future posts on memorization techniques, oral citations, and visual aids!
This is part one in a series on public speaking tips. Look for more posts by Janelle Davis on this topic in the coming weeks!