Chapter 5: Presenting Your Speech Module
Speeches can be categorized into four broad areas depending on the amount of preparation that is undertaken and depending upon the nature of the occasion. The four types of speeches are manuscript, memorized, extemporaneous, and impromptu. Our aim is to acquaint you with these four different modes of delivery, to provide suggestions for when you are asked to make impromptu remarks, and then to focus most your time on the preparation, practice, and presentation of extemporaneous speeches.
When you listen to the President deliver a State of the Union message, you listen to a well-crafted speech being read from a teleprompter. The speech has been polished by a staff of speechwriters and has been practiced many times. The President will know how to anticipate the reaction of the audience and will know when to pause for applause and when to expect laughter. This form of speaking is used when the exact words matter and when much time and energy is expended on getting everything just right. There are times when people who are not leaders of countries deliver manuscript speeches as well. They are used when people testify before Congress, when people read important statements in a public setting, or when people deliver reports at professional meetings. All call for exact words in the correct order.
While the President has access to a staff of speech writers and a teleprompter, most of us do not. If you were given this type of assignment, you would have to read your manuscript speech from printed notes. In that case, you would want to ensure that you had prepared your manuscript carefully, using large fonts so you could read it easily without burying your nose in the pages. Reading the speech does not allow you to skimp on the preparation. Practice the speech many times. This allows you to make changes, if needed, and to select the best words to communicate your exact meaning. Remember to speak clearly and naturally -strive for a conversational tone. It shouldn’t sound read -even if you are reading. Also, remember to speak slowly; there is a natural tendency to speed up when we speak in public. Delivering a speech is not a race; you do not receive bonus points for finishing early.
Unless you are specifically told by your instructor to prepare and deliver a manuscript speech, you should never write out the entire speech. Spend your time developing your outline, organizing your ideas, and determining where you can best insert your supports. Then practice using the outline while speaking.
When you were in elementary school, did you ever have to memorize a poem or a part of a speech? If you are like most students, the answer is “Yes. ” There is nothing wrong with memorization. But if you try to memorize a speech, you risk forgetting what you planned to say and coming across as completely unprepared. Memorizing your speech is even worse than reading it. All the objections that apply to the read speech also apply to the memorized speech. Spontaneity is gone. The speech can sound stilted. Often, delivery is too rapid. Concentration is on the words, not the ideas. Sometimes the speech sounds too formal, like a written essay. There is minimal feedback or other contact with the audience. And what happens if your mind goes completely blank or if an audience member interrupts? The entire presentation will likely fall apart. Memorizing a speech puts entirely too much pressure on the speaker.
That said, there are a couple of parts of the speech that you may want to have memorized -or practiced so well that you can deliver them almost as if memorized. These include:
Your introduction: It sets the stage for the entire speech. The words should be well chosen and rehearsed. You may find that as you repeat this portion of the speech during your rehearsals you do come to memorize it word for word. If so, this is fine. After all, once you have determined the best way of saying something, why not use it? Just make sure the presentation does not sound memorized.
Your conclusion: The summary and call to action are the final words that your audience will hear. As with the introduction, if you practice this repeatedly you will develop the best way to say what you want and you will probably have perfected this portion of the speech.
There will come a time for all of us when we are asked to “say a few words ” without much preparation. You haven’t prepared any notes, you haven’t practiced what you’ll say, and you’re being asked to “wing it. ” While this may seem incredibly scary, impromptu presentations are the most common type of public speaking. You’re in class and suddenly the professor wants to hear how group projects are going. You, as the leader of your group, are asked to stand and briefly discuss what the group is doing and how much you’ve completed so far. That’s an impromptu speech. You didn’t know when you headed to class that day that you’d be speaking in public, but you did it. No sweat! Or maybe you’re in a meeting at work and the boss announces that he wants you to brief everyone in the meeting on the new equipment being installed that afternoon. Again, no prior planning, no notes, you just do it. That’s impromptu speaking.
The focus of most college courses in public speaking is the extemporaneous speech. This is because this is the type of speech used most in business, education, preaching, and political affairs. Few of us will ever have a professional staff of speechwriters or ever deliver a speech with the aid of a teleprompter. But when you do have a speech or presentation to deliver, you’ll want to sound prepared, authoritative, and clear.
Simply stated, an extemporaneous speech is one where you will have time for preparation and practice but will not be expected to read from a manuscript or to have the speech memorized. The question most students ask is, “How much time should be spent in preparation and practice? ” Perhaps Mark Twain said it best. When speaking about preparing for an impromptu speech, he noted, “It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech ” (King). While celebrated as a humorist, there is much truth in his words. To appear to be speaking off the cuff, and to do it well, you must prepare thoroughly and practice to perfection. When you speak extemporaneously, it means you’ve had ample time to prepare and research and that you have rehearsed your speech (many times) using an outline or notes to remind you of the progression of ideas you wish to present. You will follow all the normal steps outlined in the earlier chapters. Choose a topic, narrow appropriately, analyze your audience, choose your supports, and create an outline. You will know your speech so well and will amaze your audience!