Anxiety, stress and fear are common responses to public speaking. Many people consider public speaking among their worst fears in life. For some, college is the first real test of these fears and emotions.
You will probably be required to speak publicly as part of a class assignment or social event during your college career. How you handle this opportunity is entirely up to you. You can choose to avoid classes and situations that require an oral presentation. The short term consequences of doing so will result in lower grades and diminished leadership skills. The long term consequences are increased fear and stress. Choosing to avoid public speaking feeds the anxiety. Overcoming this fear can have a tremendous affect on your career potential or social status. Face this challenge head on. Gather up the courage to break out of your comfort zone. Public speaking becomes easier the more you do it.
When confronted with public speaking, you need to first know the purpose of your speech. Is it to inform? to persuade? to entertain? Once you know the general purpose of your speech, you can begin to prepare.
A great speech starts with a great topic. In some situations your topic will be chosen for you. If you are able to choose your topic, it is important that you select a topic that interests you and will interest your audience. You can draw topics from personal interests or from the media. Once you have a list of potential topics you will want to ask yourself some questions about each topic in order to find the best one:
If you can answer yes to all of the questions, then you have probably selected a good topic.
After selecting your topic, you need to come up with a specific purpose statement. The specific purpose statement is a definitive sentence that states the focus of your speech. It is part of the creation process of the speech, not part of the delivery. The purpose states the general function of the speech: to inform, persuade, or entertain. The statement narrows down the topic. An example of a specific purpose statement is: To inform my audience of three major warning signs of clinical depression. If you find yourself with too much information, revise the specific purpose statement so the focus is even more narrow. Remember it is much easier to add information than to delete it.
When you have your specific purpose statement you are ready to compose your Thesis Statement or Central Idea. This is probably the most important part of your speech. This is one sentence that covers the central idea of your speech. The thesis is always in the introduction and it usually transitions into the body of the speech. The thesis is the focus. The thesis needs to be a definitive statement – don’t make your audience guess the focus. An example of a thesis statement is: “There are warning signs of clinical depression; today I will discuss three of the major ones.”
Your next step is to compose the main points of your speech. Main points are complete sentences that create a dialogue with your audience. Use your main points to create questions in the mind of your audience. You will answer these questions when you support your main points. You make a claim in your main points and you support your claim in your sub-points.
Next, do some research. Make sure to evaluate your sources – information found on someone’s blog carries less weight than information from a library database. Supporting what you are saying with facts lends credibility to what you are saying. A few things to look for when you are doing your research include:
Supporting materials serve a variety of functions in oral presentations: to clarify the speaker’s point, to emphasize a point, to make the point more interesting, and to furnish a basis that enables others to believe your point. Without supporting materials, an oral presentation is little more than a string of assertions. When choosing supporting materials, the following guidelines may be helpful:
After gathering your supporting research, consider your audience as you develop and shape your topic. Consider the following questions when adapting your topics and messages to a particular audience:
After gathering all of your information and considering your audience, it is time to outline your speech. Create a basic outline of your key points, sub-points, and the support of your topic. Do not write down everything you want to say. Having an outline of important ideas will make your presentation sound more conversational. This may make your audience more interested in what you have to say. Use your outline as an aid. Do not read from it.
A few general dos and don’ts will help with the actual delivery of your speech. These dos and don’ts include:
Many colleges require public speaking as part of their general education requirements. College programs across the nation are trying to ease the burden of required public speaking. This push is due to the realization that some students were not graduating because their fears of speaking prevented them from passing a required communication class. Many speech classes now focus on forms of communication that will be a relevant part of life, like wedding toasts or eulogies.
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