Giving a speech can be a daunting task, even for the most seasoned after-dinner speakers. For those who speak publicly less frequently, or who are giving a speech for the first time, the task is often elevated from daunting to terrifying. Whilst we can’t promise to turn you into a polished public speaker through reading this article, the 10 tips below will go a long way to ensuring that you deliver the perfect(ish) after-dinner speech.
1. Know Your Audience
Unless you are one of a rare breed of public speakers, who can think quickly on their feet, with an audience staring at them, you will want to prepare properly. One of most important areas of your preparation is getting to know what kind of audience you can expect to be greeted by. This should include their average age, social backgrounds, number of men and women, mood of the occasion and any recent occurrences that may impact upon it. Where applicable, you should also have at least a basic knowledge of the industry involved, whether it is farming or construction.
2. Don’t Drink
If you are giving a Best Man’s speech at a friend or family member’s wedding, you’ll be excused for having a few drinks to settle your nerves. It’s almost expected. However, it is a real mistake to be slurring and losing your place at an event where you don’t know the audience intimately. Not only is it unprofessional, the audience will also be less forgiving should you struggle in sections of your speech.
3. Early Start
Do whatever you can to get on stage relatively early. Once they have finished eating, your audience is likely to be fairly mellow and receptive to your speech. Likewise, you will still have the energy required to deliver an engaging performance. However, once you get past the 10.30pm mark, your audience may find it difficult to concentrate as they become tired and you might also begin to run low on energy.
4. Prepare For Change
We have already touched on the importance of preparation and you should certainly plan your speech in advance. However, don’t be too rigid in your preparation. It is often better to have the outline framework of your speech, without having it planned word for word. That way you can gage the response of your audience as you go, subtly changing and tweaking parts so that it will be better received. Changing a speech on the hop that has been planned word for word can prove problematic, as you are likely to have memorised much of it, which can be difficult to forget.
5. Entertain The Audience
Remember that you are giving the speech for the benefit of the audience. Ensure that the content of your speech will be of interest to them. Many less-experienced speakers fall into the trap of writing speeches that they find interesting or amusing, but which their audience cannot relate to.
6. An Engaging Start
It can be tempting to save the best parts of your speech until the end and it is always advisable to have a strong finish. However, it is in the first 2 minutes that you must capture the attention of your audience if the speech is going to be well received. So ensure you your speech has an interesting start, suck your stomach in, look them squarely in the eye and begin with conviction.
7. Stay Calm
Don’t get flustered if you stumble over a word or two, lose your place, or have to begin a sentence again. Many after-dinner speakers will make minor mistakes during their speech and it isn’t that big a deal - unless you start to worry about it. Just take a second or two to compose yourself and then continue your speech where you broke off. At this point many inexperienced speakers begin to talk more quickly, as if trying to make up for the few seconds that they have just lost. This will only serve to increase the feeling of pressure and enhance the likelihood of making further errors. So stay calm and retain a steady pace.
8. Deal With Heckling
If you do get heckled and it has been heard by the rest of the audience, try to come back with a humorous response. If you get your response right it will earn the respect of your audience and get them onside. However, good timing is essential. If you don’t get your reply off quickly, forget about it and move on.
9. Touch The 3 Bases
A good speech must contain three elements – content, humanity and humour. If you ensure that the content of your speech is tight, demonstrate that you can relate to the topic on a personal level and throw in some humour along the way, you won’t go far wrong.
10. Don’t Stay Too Long
Last but not least; don’t overstay your welcome. Even if it turns out that you are actually a good speaker, your audience will only remain interested for a finite amount of time. Usually the event organiser will give you an idea of how long they would like you to speak for, which may be only 10 minutes, or perhaps as long as 45 minutes. The best speakers don’t tend to spend much longer than 30 minutes on the stage and we’d advise you to do the same. If you are giving a speech for the first time, 20 minutes might be more realistic. Image source: Tom 81115 on Flickr