Surveys show that public speaking is the number one phobia in America. The fear of death is number seven! The idea of speaking before a group may terrify you, but one day you'll need to speak publicly to help animals and the planet. If you plan your speech and rehearse your presentation, you may still be nervous but at least people will listen.
Your first step in preparing a speech is to understand the nature of the people you'll be speaking to. Try to determine the age, sex, religion, occupation, and political affiliation of the group. How much do they already know about your topic? Do you share any beliefs or experiences with them? Try to put yourself in their shoes. You also need to consider how you want your speech to affect your audience. What do you want them to feel, think, or do after they've heard your speech?
Don't be afraid of "alienating" people by talking about environmental and animal issues. If you don't introduce them to new ideas, who will? How you speak is as important as what you say. A shrill, aggressive demeanor will alienate people; a calm voice and friendly manner will encourage them to think twice about those new ideas.
WRITING A SPEECH
Before you begin writing your speech, make a list of two to five main points you want to make. Write out each point in one or two sentences. Don't try to make more than five points.
You're more likely to persuade your audience if you don't speak in generalities. If necessary, do some research to find some specific examples that will illustrate your points dramatically. Statistics are boring if you overuse them, but are good for making comparisons. People are more likely to retain information if it is new, relevant and presented by vivid comparison and contrast.
Don't try to write and edit at the same time. Write the first draft as ideas occur to you. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar, or how it will sound. Just get your thoughts down! Editing is a separate process that should be done after writing.
Your speech will be most effective if you plan your opening and closing statements and key transitions down to the last word. Organize the speech logically with a beginning, middle and end. In other words, tell them what you're going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you've told them. Here are some suggestions:
Establish your credibility by briefly stating your qualifications and experience, or have someone introduce you this way.
Open with an attention-getting fact, rhetorical question (making sure you know what the answer will be), quotation (to support your message), or relevant anecdote.
You may challenge your audience, but make sure you don't sound hostile.
You don't have to start with a joke, especially if it doesn't support your message.
Keep it short. Your speech should take less than 20 minutes.
Tell the audience what the problem is, what your proposed solution is, and what actions they can take to help bring about the solution.
When you prepare your final version, write or type the beginning, ending, and key transitions and phrases in large print, and then itemize your main points. Only write two thirds of the way down the page so it won't be obvious if you need to look at your notes.
Plan a snappy conclusion that summarizes your main points. But don't say, "In conclusion "
Don't present new information at the end of your speech.
Don't just trail off at the end. Finish with an appeal for action.
REHEARSING YOUR SPEECH
You should know your speech well enough that you can speak naturally and only glance occasionally at your notes.
Practice your speech no fewer than three times, but not more than six times. Don't practice sitting down - stand up. Work on one thing at a time: gestures, voice, content or visuals. Pay attention to the beginning and end of your speech, since these will be what the audience remembers most.
Practice your speech in front of another person, and ask him or her for constructive criticism.
Be sure to pace yourself, using pauses and changes in volume for emphasis. Speak clearly and don't slur your words.
Remember that gestures, movement and eye contact can add to your impact, but make sure they're natural and relevant.
Move briskly and purposefully, but don't be afraid to stand still. Stand straight and keep your feet 12 to 14 inches apart. Don't point, put your hands in your pockets or gesture below chest level. Keep your hands away from your mouth.
Look at your audience, smile, and make eye contact. Focus on one friendly face for a complete sentence, then move on to someone else. Don't look at the floor or ceiling or stare at only one person. Also, don't look at your watch. Take it off and put it on the lectern if you need it.
Try not to speak from the lectern - it's a barrier between you and your audience. Use it to put your notes on, and then try to walk around. You can always go back to the lectern to check your notes when you need to.
Never walk away while most people are still applauding.
USING VISUAL AIDS
Visual aids can help you make your point if the subject matter is complex, dry, or unfamiliar. Make sure they reinforce your point of view and make abstract ideas concrete. PowerPoint presentations, photos, charts and videos can all help you get your point across.
When you use a visual aid, explain to people what you're showing them. Summarize the information on the slide or chart without reading it word-for-word.
Talk to the audience, not to the visual aid.
Visual aids should be simple and colorful, but remember that red and green are difficult to read from a distance. Don't reveal visual aids until you're ready to show them, and remove them after you've used them.
A few effective visual aids can help your audience understand your message, but too many will distract them.
PREPARING FOR A QUESTION-AND-ANSWER SESSION
A well-handled question-and-answer session can strengthen your credibility, demonstrate your knowledge, and give you a chance to clarify and expand your ideas. A poorly handled session can hurt your credibility, cause you to lose control of the audience, and give your adversaries an opportunity to make their case.
Try to anticipate difficult questions in advance. Play the "devil's advocate" and guess which questions your opponents might ask. Write down the toughest questions you can think of and strong responses. Practice your answers out loud, preferably with someone else asking the questions. Have friends ask hostile, aggressive questions so you're less likely to get rattled by the real thing.
Remember that tough questions aren't necessarily hostile. If you can remember that, you won't get defensive or nervous. You can also "buy time" to collect your thoughts by repeating or rephrasing the question. Then answer the question.
If someone is hostile, stay cool. You must appear calm and reasonable, even if you don't feel that way. Listen carefully to each question, be tactful, and avoid using such emotionally charged words like "obviously" when you answer. Stick to things you can prove and stick to facts.
Use the "feel, felt, find" method to disagree with someone: "I understand how you feel. Others have felt that way. But I find in my experience that ..."
Answer to the entire audience, not just the questioner (especially if it's a hostile question). If someone tries to get control of the session, ask, "What is your question?" or say, "I'll be happy to hear your comments afterwards, but we've got to end soon, so let's go on to another question."
Never forget that, when you speak in defense of the planet and animals, you are right. If you speak sincerely and with conviction, you will reach your audience. They may not walk out agreeing with you, but you will plant an idea in their minds that can grow.