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It’s Time to Give Your Speech!

You’ve written your speech and it’s time to get prepared to present it in front of an audience. There are several things to keep in mind when you’re presenting your speech. You can write the perfect speech but if you can’t deliver it effectively, the quality of your writing alone won’t earn you a blue ribbon.

Projection to Audience

There is no microphone in a 4-H Public Speaking Contest, so speak loudly and project your voice.  Make sure you breathe deeply. Breathing deeply accomplishes a few different things. First, it relaxes you, allowing you to easily take in enough oxygen.  It also allows your voice to project better if you’re getting a full breath of air.  Your voice will come out more easily and it will not sound shallow or weak.

You want the people in the back of the room to hear you as well as the people in the front. This also keeps it interesting because if you speak quietly, you’ll lose the audience.  They won’t pay attention to you because they don’t know what you’re saying and you’ll also lose the judges. When people get nervous, they stop breathing deeply.  They can’t project their voice well so they end up speaking too softly. Even if you’re doing everything else correctly, if you don’t speak loudly, positive actions may be overlooked by the judges.

Voice Control

Varying your pitch is also important. If you talk in a monotone, you’re going to lose the audience. Vary your pitch by having your voice go a little up and then go a little down.  When you vary your pitch, you keep it interesting and if it is interesting, then the audience will pay attention. But if they get bored because you’re speaking in a monotone, the judges will get bored of listening too.

It is important to enunciate your words. This means you say them clearly and completely.   Examples of things people say that show they’re not enunciating are woulda, coulda, shoulda, wanna.  None of those are words, even if you read them somewhere. What you should be saying is, “ would have,” “could have,” “should have,” “want to.” That’s enunciation and if you’re enunciating your words, it shows you’ve practiced your speech and you’re not nervous.  It will show that you know what you’re talking about, and people will take what you say seriously.

Speaking at a conversational pace is a great way to keep from speaking too quickly.  When people get nervous they tend to speak really fast.  If you talk to the audience like you’re talking with a friend or family member, you’ll be less tempted to rush through your speech.

Body Language

Body language is important because it’s about your whole body movement. If you’re too jittery and shifting back and forth on your feet, it can be distracting.  You want to make sure when you’re standing there, your shoulders are down.  Your body should be in a relaxed and balanced stance with shoulders straight and back.

Speaking behind the lectern is not required.  It is acceptable to come out from behind the lectern and to move around the stage. Just make sure whatever you’re doing is purposeful; it needs to have a point. By moving around the stage as it fits, it provides a transition from one idea to another. You may start speaking on one side of the lectern and when you have a point to make or transition to another idea, you could move to the other side. If you don’t have a lectern, you can speak just as effectively when it’s just you and the audience.  Remember, the audience is taking note of everything you do with your body and so are the judges.

Gestures

Gestures are just as important as body movements.  These movements are smaller than whole body movements.  Using effective gestures means you move your hands with a purpose.  Don’t just flail your hands around and move them without a reason; make sure there’s a purpose for moving your hands.  If you’re just moving your hands around because you’re nervous, it’s very distracting.  However, you can make points with your hands and emphasize things.  One example is conventional gestures. Raising your hand with two fingers up while saying, “There are two cars in the driveway,” or putting up your hand when you say, “You need to stop right now,” are examples of conventional gestures.  They make your point even stronger.  Descriptive gestures are also important.  Two examples of this type of gesture are drawing a curve with your finger, “The road curved like this,” or spreading your hands far apart and saying, “I traveled a long way to the station.” Emotional gestures are important too.  When you want to show anger or determination, clench your fists or if you’re shrugging your shoulders, it means you don’t care, you’re just indifferent.  These gestures all help the audience “see” what you’re saying and they’re not distracting because they have a purpose.

Eye Contact

Eye contact means making sure that you’re looking the audience in the eye. This doesn’t mean that you stare but move your eyes around to look at individual people in the audience.  Remember to make eye contact with the judges too.  However, don’t speak to and make eye contact with only the judges but also the audience. Both groups want to feel like you are speaking to them.

Smile

It is important to smile.  However, when people get nervous, they may forget to smile.  They may even make a mean face or a sad face without even thinking.  Be sure to concentrate on smiling, if it’s appropriate.  Of course, if you’re speaking about something sad in a speech, then of course you don’t want to smile.  However, most of the time, you should be smiling.  So if you think about smiling and keep smiling, it will help keep you from becoming more nervous.

Know Your Speech

Do not read your speech.  Also do not to memorize your speech word for word.  You want to remember concepts in your speech, not complete sentences.  It is acceptable to use notecards if you get stuck.  It is not acceptable to read from a sheet of paper more than you are speaking without it.  You can look down occasionally at a note, but not just read the page.   If you’re just going to read the page then make photocopies of it and hand it to the audience and they can read it themselves.  There’s nothing interesting about having the speech read to them.  Not only is it boring but it shows that you did not practice your speech.  Do not use sheets of paper for your notes. Use notecards to write highlights taken from the outline you created when you wrote your speech or just quick words that will trigger what you’re trying to say and remind you what’s next.  It is alright to look at your notes for a moment to remember what to say.  However, the older you are, the less  you should be looking at your notes. By the time you get to be a senior, you can look at your notes but you should do so infrequently.

Practice Alone

You cannot practice too much.  The more you practice, the less nervous you’ll be. When you practice, don’t memorize sentences, practice ideas. If you try to memorize your speech and forget the next sentence, you could get stuck.  This could make you more nervous. If you practice ideas, then all you have to do is be thinking about your speech and the next idea, not exact sentences. You can use different words than what you wrote, as long as they convey same meaning.

When you’re practicing, be sure that every time you start your speech, you finish it.  If you get to a point in the speech where you pause because you forget something, get right back on track and keep going.  Go all the way through to the end.  If you say the speech all the way through over and over you’ll get past that part where you stumbled. If you keep stopping at the same point without finishing the speech, your brain may think that’s end of the speech, leaving you to forget the rest.

A great way to get started is to practice in front of a mirror. By practicing in front of a mirror, you can look at your facial expressions, body movements, and check your stance and posture.  You can see how much you’re using your hands or if you’re using them with a purpose.  Practicing in front of a mirror allows you to work out problems without feeling embarrassed in front of an audience..

Practice with an Audience

When you are comfortable in front of the mirror, practice in front of family and friends. Make sure that you tell them to be honest with you and give you suggestions on ways to improve your speech.  You don’t need them to tell you how great you are and what an awesome job you’re doing.  These comments won’t help you learn where you need to practice more.

Check your time.  Once you’re not getting lost or stopping unnecessarily and your speech is flowing well, check your time.  If you’re not in time, then you need to go back to the beginning and either add things to your speech or take things away or adjust your speed.  Five points will be deducted if you go under time or overtime.

Wrap It Up

Now put it all together.   Project to the audience and remember you want the people in the back of the room to hear you just as well as the people in the front are hearing you.  Control your voice so that you sound calm and confident.  Watch your body language as it is just as important what you’re doing with your body as what you’re doing with your voice.  People are listening to you AND watching you.  Gestures are important because this is how you strengthen the message of your speech.  You are emphasizing things you’re trying to get the audience to understand and remember.  Since you’re only going to going to speak for up to seven minutes, gestures highlight what you’re saying.

Remember, you need to be looking not only at the judges but also at the audience.  If you never look at the audience, they’re going to get bored and distracted because they don’t feel like they’re a part of what you’re doing. Demonstrate poise by showing you are comfortable with yourself and you have full control over what you’re doing. During your speech, control your body language, your voice, and your gestures. Show that you’re comfortable speaking in front of an audience.

And finally, practice, practice, practice.  You cannot practice too much. The more you practice, the less nervous you’ll be because you’ll be certain of what comes next in your speech. If you do all of these things, you’re sure to make a blue ribbon speech.

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