19.3 Speech Preparation
Once you’ve finished putting in place the foundational building blocks of the effective public speaking pyramid, it’s time to start building the second tier. The second tier of the pyramid is focused on the part of the preparation of your speech. At this point, speakers really get to delve into the creation of the speech itself. This level of the pyramid contains three major building blocks: research, organization, and support.
If you want to give a successful and effective speech, you’re going to need to research your topic. Even if you are considered an expert on the topic, you’re going to need do some research to organize your thoughts for the speech. Research is the process of investigating a range of sources to determine relevant facts, theories, examples, quotations, and arguments. The goal of research is to help you, as the speaker, to become very familiar with a specific topic area.
We recommend that you start your research by conducting a general review of your topic. You may find an article in a popular-press magazine like Vogue, Sports Illustrated, Ebony, or The Advocate. You could also consult newspapers or news websites for information. The goal at this step is to find general information that can help point you in the right direction. When we read a range of general sources, we’ll start to see names of commonly cited people across articles. Often, the people who are cited across a range of articles are the “thought leaders” on a specific topic, or the people who are advocating and advancing how people think about a topic.
Once you’ve identified who these thought leaders are, we can start searching for what they’ve written and said directly. At this level, we’re going from looking at sources that provide a general overview to sources that are more specific and specialized. You’ll often find that these sources are academic journals and books.
One of the biggest mistakes novice public speakers can make, though, is to spend so much time reading and finding sources that they don’t spend enough time on the next stage of speech preparation. We recommend that you set a time limit for how long you will spend researching so that you can be sure to leave enough time to finish preparing your speech. You can have the greatest research on earth, but if you don’t organize it well, that research won’t result in a successful speech.
The next step in speech preparation is determining the basic structure of your speech. Effective speeches all contain a basic structure: introduction, body, and conclusion.
The introduction is where you set up the main idea of your speech and get your audience members interested. An effective introduction section of a speech should first capture your audience’s attention. The attention getter might be an interesting quotation from one of your sources or a story that leads into the topic of your speech. The goal is to pique your audience’s interest and make them anticipate hearing what else you have to say.
In addition to capturing your audience’s attention, the introduction should also contain the basic idea or thesis of your speech. If this component is missing, your audience is likely to become confused, and chances are that some of them will “tune out” and stop paying attention. The clearer and more direct you can be with the statement of your thesis, the easier it will be for your audience members to understand your speech.
The bulk of your speech occurs in what we call “the body” of the speech. The body of the speech is generally segmented into a series of main points that a speaker wants to make. For a speech that is less than ten minutes long, we generally recommend no more than two or three main points. We recommend this because when a speaker only has two or three main points, the likelihood that an audience member will recall those points at the conclusion of the speech increases. If you are like most people, you have sat through speeches in which the speaker rambled on without having any clear organization. When speakers lack clear organization with two or three main points, the audience gets lost just trying to figure out what the speaker is talking about in the first place.
To help you think about your body section of your speech, ask yourself this question, “If I could only say three sentences, what would those sentences be?” When you are able to clearly determine what the three most important sentences are, you’ve figured out what the three main points of your speech should also be. Once you have your two or three main topic areas, you then need to spend time developing those areas into segments that work individually but are even more meaningful when combined together. The result will form the body of your speech.
After you’ve finished talking about the two or three main points in your speech, it’s time to conclude the speech. At the beginning of the speech’s conclusion, you should start by clearly restating the basic idea of your speech (thesis). We restate the thesis at this point to put everything back into perspective and show how the three main points were used to help us understand the original thesis.
For persuasive speeches, we also use the conclusion of the speech to make a direct call for people change their thought processes or behaviors (call to action). We save this until the very end to make sure the audience knows exactly what we, the speaker, want them to do now that we’re concluding the speech.
For informative speeches, you may want to refer back to the device you used to gain your audience’s attention at the beginning of the speech. When we conclude back where we started, we show the audience how everything is connected within our speech.
Now that we’ve walked through the basic organization of a speech, here’s a simple way to outline the speech:
- Attention getter
- Thesis statement
Body of speech
- Main point 1
- Main point 2
- Main point 3
- Restate thesis statement
- 1. Call to action
- 2. Refer back to attention getter
You may think that once you’ve developed your basic outline of the speech, the hard part is over, but you’re not done yet. An outline of your speech is like the steel frame of a building under construction. If the frame isn’t structurally sound, the building will collapse, but no one really wants to live in an open steel structure. For this reason, once you’ve finished creating the basic structure of your speech, it’s time to start putting the rest of the speech together, or build walls, floors, and ceilings to create a completed building.
For each of the two or three main points you’ve picked in your speech, you need to now determine how you are going to elaborate on those areas and make them fully understandable. To help us make completed main points, we rely on a range of supporting materials that we discovered during the research phase. Supporting materials help us define, describe, explain, and illustrate the main points we selected when deciding on the speech’s organization. For example, often there are new terms that need to be defined in order for the audience to understand the bulk of our speech. You could use one of the sources you found during the research stage to define the term in question. Maybe another source will then help to illustrate that concept. In essence, at this level we’re using the research to support the different sections of our speech and make them more understandable for our audiences.
Every main point that you have in your speech should have support. For informative speeches, you need to provide expert testimony for why something is true or false. For example, if you’re giving a speech on harmfulness of volcanic gas, you need to have evidence from noted researchers explaining how volcanic gas is harmful. For persuasive speeches, the quality of our support becomes even more important as we try to create arguments for why audience members should change their thought processes or behaviors. At this level, we use our supporting materials as evidence in favor of the arguments we are making. If you’re giving a speech on why people should chew gum after meals, you need to have expert testimony (from dentists or the American Dental Association) explaining the benefits of chewing gum. In persuasive speeches, the quality of your sources becomes very important. Clearly the American Dental Association is more respected than Joe Bob who lives down the street from me. When people listen to evidence presented during a speech, Joe Bob won’t be very persuasive, but the American Dental Association will lend more credibility to your argument.