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. If you plan your speech and rehearse your presentation, you may still be nervous, but people will still listen and learn.
Preparing Your Speech
Your first step in preparing a speech is to learn as much as possible about the people you’ll be speaking to. Try to determine the average age, sex, religion, occupation, and political affiliation of the group’s members. How much do they already know about your topic? Do you share any of their beliefs or experiences? 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 veganism or vivisection. 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 the new ideas that you’re presenting.
Writing a Speech
Before you begin writing your speech, make a list of two to five main points that you want to present. Write out each point in one or two sentences, and don’t try to make more than five points.
You’re more likely to persuade your audience if you avoid generalities. If necessary, do some research to find some specific examples that will dramatically illustrate your points. 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 through 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 on paper! Editing is a separate process and should be done after your draft is completed.
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, a middle, and an end. In other words, tell your audience what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve told them.
The following steps will also help ensure your success:
- Establish your credibility by briefly stating your qualifications and experience, or have someone introduce you with that information.
- Open with an attention-getting fact, rhetorical question (making sure that you know what the answer is), quotation (to support your message), or relevant anecdote.
- You may challenge your audience, but make sure that you don’t sound hostile.
- 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.
- 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 that 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 a strong and motivating appeal for action.
Rehearsing Your Speech
You should know your speech well enough to speak naturally during your presentation and only glance occasionally at your notes. The following guidelines will help you prepare:
- Practice your speech no fewer than three times but not more than six times.
- Don’t practice while 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 the parts that the audience remembers most.
- Practice your speech in front of another person, and ask for constructive criticism.
- 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 that they’re natural and relevant.
- Move briskly and purposefully, but don’t be afraid to stand still, either. 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. Put your notes on it, 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, especially if the subject matter is complex, dry, or unfamiliar to your audience. Make sure that they reinforce your point of view and make abstract ideas more concrete. PowerPoint presentations, slides, and flip charts all have advantages in certain situations.
When you use a visual aid, explain what you’re showing to your audience. Don’t put the complete text of your speech on PowerPoint slides. The slides should only reinforce your speech, just briefly summarizing the information, not reproducing it word for word. Your audience won’t be able to listen to you if they’re busy reading your slides or chart.
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 to keep the focus on your message.
A few effective slides or charts can help your audience understand your message, but too many will distract them.
Show video footage. A picture truly is worth a thousand words, and using video is your opportunity to really drive home your message. Check out the TV section for a list of the videos and DVDs that you can download or that PETA can send you.
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 on 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 try to guess which questions your opponents might ask. Write down the toughest questions that you can think of and practice giving strong responses out loud, preferably with someone else asking the questions. Have friends ask hostile, aggressive questions so that you’ll be less likely to be rattled by the real thing. Check out PETA’s FAQs for a list of typical questions and answers.
If you can remember that tough questions aren’t necessarily hostile, you won’t get defensive or nervous. You can also buy time to collect your thoughts by repeating or rephrasing the question (e.g., “You’re wondering why we should avoid dairy products.”). 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 emotionally charged words such as “obviously” when you answer. Stick to facts that you can prove.
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 ….”
Direct your answers toward 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 afterward, but we’ve got to end soon, so let’s move on to another question.”
Never forget that when you speak in defense of 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 have planted an idea in their minds that can grow.