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How to Give a Talk


Surveys show the fear of speaking in public is common. This fear can be substantially reduced by good preparation, and by paying attention to some basic rules for giving an effective talk.

The “basic ingredients” of a speech are:

  • What you say
  • How you say it

Effectiveness comes from:

  • Your sincerity and conviction
  • Keeping the message understandable (KISS)
  • Being “audience-focused,” not “speaker-focused”
  • Avoiding turn-offs (cliches, platitudes, bad grammar, needless apologies, going overtime)


Preparing to give a talk involves much more than just writing it out shortly before the time of its delivery. Giving talks well involves long-range planning; it is an ongoing task. To help,

  1. Store information (books, magazines, papers)
  2. Collect quotations and jokes in a notebook

It also has a short-range aspect, focusing on the specific topic and audience:

  1. Who is my audience and what do they know of the subject?
  2. Collect information widely, make notes, ask others for ideas
  3. Use these words as prompts: how, when, where, why, which, what, who?
  4. Pray that the words you speak are inspired by God through the Holy Spirit
  5. Think through your material and form a definite opinion
  6. Answer the question: “What do I want the audience to think or do as a result of my speech?”
  7. Recognise the structure of a speech
  8. Consider the three main parts of the talk: Introduction, Body and Conclusion
  9. Assemble your speech, concentrating on the introduction and conclusion first
  10. The introduction should be arresting, and indicate the direction of the talk
  11. The conclusion should be firm and clear; write it down
  12. In the body include your material, arguments, quotes and statistics

Writing and timing

  1. Write your speech in full
  2. Allow 120 words per minute — watch your timing
  3. How does it look and sound? Ask others.
  4. Re-write and fine-tune it if you are not satisfied; the more you edit it, the better it will become
  5. Practice the talk (the best way to overcome nervousness)
  6. Don’t try to memorise the entire talk:
    • Memorise the opening and closing sentences
    • Remember the ideas you want to convey. If the exact words don’t come out, it doesn’t matter as much.
    • Visualise yourself facing the audience — and succeeding.


See yourself as an instrument of God, delivering His message. In the minute or so before commencing, pray, take a couple of breaths, and rehearse your opening sentence.

Use your voice well: Speak distinctly and clearly. The volume should be sufficient for every word to be heard by the person in the back row. Changes in pitch, speed and volume adds impact to the talk.

Stance is important: Hang your hands naturally at your side or place one in the other at waist height. Use gestures (face or hands) to emphasise things, for example, fear, height or surprise (don’t overdo it)

Use your eyes: Watch your audience all the time for feedback. Look at everyone. Don’t favour one group or side of your audience when you look at them. Person-to-person eye contact is an important aspect of creating a receptive audience.

Notes: The ultimate aim is to outgrow the use of notes. If they are necessary, use a large font with key words highlighted.

Using a lectern: A lectern can be an obstacle between you and the audience, and may be inappropriate for certain types of talk. You may need to move around (to a whiteboard, for example).

Distractions: Ignore interjections and external noise, if at all possible.

Power failure: Anticipate your options beforehand.

How To Add Sparkle And Animation To Your Speech

  • Begin with an arresting introduction, and then move straight into your subject. Limit statistics and make them meaningful: instead of “Imagine 100,000 people … ,” say, “As many people as would fill the MCG …”
  • Support your argument with apt quotations (buy a book)
  • Inject humour that is relevant and not offensive
  • Use emotion, picture language and human stories
  • Have a strong conclusion. You should memorise it. If it is effective, your audience will remember it, too.

Speaking At Short Notice When Not Prepared

  • You should always be prepared
  • Concentrate on one aspect
  • Maintain the “Introduction/Body/Conclusion” structure

The Use Of Aids

The Number One Rule is — know how they work, and rehearse.

Microphone: Only use one if it is necessary; it can restrict your movement. Always keep the microphone between the audience and you. Practise beforehand.

Videos: Ensure everyone can see the screen; set the tape at the right spot; predetermine your volume; don’t turn the system on until you’re about to commence.

Overhead Projector: Ensure everyone can see the screen; limit information on one transparency to 8 lines; check transparencies are in order and right way up; put the first transparency on and check the focus before commencing; turn off the projector when changing transparencies; make notes on the cardboard frame; don’t stand in the image or talk to the screen; know what to do if the globe fails.

Slide Projector: Ensure everyone can see the screen; check slides are in order, are the right way up and that the magazine fits the projector. Is there a remote-control? Watch out for the reverse button.

Whiteboard: Check the pens are the right type and are not dry; printing is usually easier to read; avoid pastel colours.

Flipcharts: Check pens are not dry; can make pencil notes on the paper.

Remember: the audience wants you to succeed. They are on your side. Smile.