Lucas Brenner » Articles » What I Learned from My First Speech

Take Time

Everyone gets nervous before a public speech. The fight-or-flight reflex pushes you to run onto the stage and jump right into the speech.

To avoid overwhelming the audience, you should walk calmly onto the stage and pause before getting started. What feels like an eternity to the speaker is just the blink of an eye to the audience.

It helped me to adjust the microphone at the beginning of my speech, put my script in front of me and take a deep breath. This kept me from slurring my words at the beginning of my speech.

Adjust Volume, Speaking Rate, and Accentuation

In a normal conversation, most people speak at a volume of 5/10. Even if you have a microphone during a speech, you should increase your speaking volume to a 7/10. This will ensure that listeners in the back row can understand you easily.

At the same time, you should slow down your speaking tempo. This point is the hardest for me personally because I speak fast. Try to slow down your pace and make pauses to allow the audience to process your speech.

If your speaking style seems exaggerated, it's spot on! Only a fraction of gestures, emphasis and facial expressions reach the audience. Therefore, it is important to adjust your gestures and way of speaking to the distance from the audience.

Remember: You know your speech inside and out, but your audience is just hearing it for the first time!

Memorize Your Speech

Just like in presentations, it is noticeable in a speech if the speaker has not prepared. If you know the speech by heart for the most part, you can look at your audience. I then find it easier to focus on my body language and smile.

You should know your speech so well that you don't use filler words like “uh.” Such words can distract the audience and diminish the impact of your speech.

You can still take a speech script with you on stage. I felt more comfortable using this safety net.

Entertain the Audience

Audiences don't want a formal speech; they want to be entertained. The guidelines vary depending on the occasion of the speech, and you have to follow them to a greater or lesser extent. I held my speech at my graduation ceremony, so there were few formalities for me to follow.

Nevertheless, the wishes and demands of the audience should have priority. If you have to break a formality to give the audience a better speech, you should.

Speeches don't have to be boring. The audience expects you to tailor your speech to them.

Provide Value

Mere entertainment is not enough to engage the audience. Your speech should provide value to the audience. This can be knowledge, experience or inspiration, for example.

You should not present yourself as a guru. The speaker can also learn from his own speech. Think of the audience as a conversation partner. Notice and respond to the audience's response.

Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously

Even if you take all the tips to heart and prepare for your speech, you will still make mistakes. If you slip up, it's important to keep your cool.

Smile about your mistakes. Make a joke about it. Relax and then continue as if nothing happened. The audience will let you get away with any mistakes if you respond positively.

It is normal that you will not deliver your speech the way you rehearsed it. You may have to change a part of the speech because you forgot or skipped something. You should allow these ideas, because it is the spontaneity that makes your speech come alive.

Do Not Speak Too Long

A speech that is too long is tiring. It is better to give a shorter speech than to bore the audience.

Especially the end of the speech should be memorable and not be pushed into the background by a too long middle part. Add an interactive Q&A session at the end and shorten the main part of your speech. This will keep the audience engaged and attentive.

Gratefully Accepting the Applause

At my graduation ceremony, I noticed that many speakers quickly disappear from the stage after their speeches. I suspect that, like the beginning of the speech, the cause of this is the fight-or-flight reflex.

I try to remember that I should not run off stage. Instead, you should pause, smile, and thank the audience.

As a speaker, you should appreciate the audience and accept the applause, for example, by bowing. Even if this gesture seems excessive to you, as a listener always notice when a speaker doesn't pay enough attention to the applause.

Think of the clapping as a gift from the audience that you get to enjoy after your work during the speech.

To gain new experiences, you have to get out of your comfort zone. Most valuable experiences are hidden behind tasks that are type 2 fun.